Live-Blogging The Fox SC Debate

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 16 2012 @ 9:02pm


11.05 pm. Frank Luntz just gave us the quote of the night, as explosions – fireworks? – boom around the convention center. "It sounds like Fort Sumter out there."

It sure did. All night.

10.58 pm. I'm not sure what to say about this evening, except I want to take a shower. I've rarely been repulsed by the atmosphere of a debate as I was tonight. But this is the Republican core of South Carolina. One of the biggest applause lines was about waging war on the federal government. I suspect that if any Latinos or African-Americans were watching this, Obama's support just jumped.

From my perspective, Romney was cringe-inducing, shudder-worthy, and plastic beyond measure. I suspect he's going to try and rig this year's tax returns to hide his far lower rate of taxation and far, far, far higher income than 99.999 percent of the population. It was a weak answer.

We also had a strong endorsement of child labor, largely for African-Americans. I suspect that Santorum helped himself tonight, as did Perry a mite. Gingrich also showed his ability to reach the Southern vote, and Romney tried to fake it. Gingrich's diatribe about blacks getting paychecks rather than food stamps earned him a standing ovation.

I still have some strange feeling that Romney is in trouble in this state. I'd be a fool to analyze this debate or its impact in South Carolina. But Newt's solid racial dog whistles and constant support for violence and hatred of "elites" may well help him a lot.

Meanwhile, a Mental Health Break – because we all need one after that:

10.56 pm. Hilarious: Fox's twitter feed shows a huge night for Ron Paul. Go Paulites. Romney is getting horrible, awful, dreadful reviews from the twitterverse. Gingrich got huge points on race. How will Fox handle the Paul success and Romney failure? Ignore it. 

10.52 pm. Another discussion of No Child Left Behind with no mention at all of its architect, George W. Bush. In fact, I think it's an amazing thing that over 16 debates, the last Republican president has gone unnamed. He doesn't exist. If he did, they might have to think about what went wrong. But then they couldn't blame the entire recession and debt on Obama!

10.50 pm. A fact! Illegal immigration is at a 40-year low. Perry "blames" that on – who else? – Obama. And still wants a new Great Wall Of America and troops to keep all those loathesome Mexican grandparents out.

10.46 pm. That was a classic piece of self-defeating Gingrich snark. If Romney has no influence over his Super Pac, what influence would he have as president? Romney kicks his butt. Then he lies again: it's "entirely false." No it's not entirely false. It's false in parts, but there's plenty of truth in it as well. Then Gingrich says he "believes" that his Super Pac have sent a list of questions to Romney about the ad. How does he know that?

10.44 pm. Santorum says that Ron Paul wants to wipe out the Second Amendment. Paul doesn't take it seriously. Nor should he. But the assholery returns.

10.42 pm. Romney is "not a serious hunter." No more varmints. Just elk. And there was a moose in there somewhere all of a sudden. I love it when he has to pull that shit out. It's fucking hilarious.

10.40 pm. Another gem from the Economist:

This is Jon Huntsman's best debate by far.

10.35 pm. Just to recap: Turkey is run by Islamic terrorists; and the right response to the Golden rule is to boo it. Also: habeas corpus is no big deal because presidents don't abuse power. Unlike monarchs, I suppose. This is the party of restoring the Constitution?

10.29 pm. Two lines from the Economist:

"There should be no space between the United States and Israel." Not even a sheet with a hole through it?

I think this crowd will be disappointed when informed that there will not in fact be a public hanging later in the evening.

If I were Ben Bernanke, I'd avoid Myrtle Beach tonight. The one thing that unites all of these people is a belief in violence. But this is the saddest thing. This point seemed completely alien to everyone up there:

Can someone raise the point please that we don't know who's joined Al-Qaeda without a legal system designed to find facts? It's called "the rule of law".

The rule of law? That's what Republicans believe in when a Democratic president makes a recess apointment. When the government seizes an innocent person, tortures them and refuses to charge them, as long as it's done by a Republican, the rule of law can jump off a cliff.

10.26 pm. A reader writes:

I tuned in for only one minute, then had to turn it off immediately. This is all I saw, and it was enough for this recovering Evangelical: They cheered Newt for his simplistic rule of "killing America's enemies," and they booed Ron Paul for his rational and Christian-minded rule of doing to our enemies nothing worse than what we would want done to us. What a sick, sad thing for Christians to ignore Jesus' most basic and essential teaching.

Jesus was far more radical than the Golden Rule. He told us to love our enemies. These people would kill all of them, a declared war or not.

10.20 pm. A chilling defense by Romney of the right to put people in prison for "treason" without any due process. Santorum says that the NDAA does not change previously existing law. That was Obama's interpretation. The notion that we should simply trust the president not to abuse a power that is inherently authoritarian is outrageous. Ron Paul alone sees the real issue. But this party that allegedly believes in individual freedom is completely comfortable with the abolition of habeas corpus whenever an administration cries out: "terror suspect!"

10.15 pm. A big attack on Turkey, of all places, by Bret Baier. Perry doubles down by saying there can be "no space" between the US and Israel. Then his allegation of "disdain" for the military by the administration the Marines urinating on corpses. Then we have the president's "disdain for our country". It's so disgusting and yet it seems so routine at this point.

Only Ron Paul knows how to cite his own service. And it's a useful reminder from him to note that the Taliban were once our allies.

10.13 pm. Santorum doesn't want military intervention in Syria. Why not? From his perspective, I mean.

10.11 pm. Now Romney tries to coopt the bloodlust. "We are under attack." If you believe that the US is under attack, and that this gives the US the right to go anywhere and kill anyone, then this is your party. Romney disowns his own foreign policy adviser. No negotiations with the Taliban. Romney apparently favors the Afghan army finishing the job. Heh. Since that won't work, I assume Romney will intensify the war in Afghanistan and reverse the planned withdrawal.

10.06 pm. Ron Paul gives his worst answer yet on war. I'm afraid he's doing very poorly in this debate. A little rattled, a little meandering, somewhat off his game. Sad. Then Gingrich does off on Pakistan. He's having a good debate. He knows in his bones how to rouse a Southern audience. And the Andrew Jackson "Kill Them" line really is the mantra of the Southern right. Killing is what they truly believe in. And Paul is able to stand up to the mob.

10.03 pm. A reader writes:

After Ron Paul’s eloquence was greeted by crickets, Newt’s tribalism whipped the crowd into a frenzy.  That was by far the most racist few minutes I have seen in non-attack-ad, mainstream political debate in forever.

9.55 pm. Juan Williams tries to find out if Gingrich can even understand why some of his rhetoric may offend some. Newt responds by backing child labor in schools. Juan Williams hangs in. The crowd boos the black moderator. Then Gingrich says that president Obama has put more people on food stamps than any president in history – because that's what "elites" like to do. Notice the way in which Gingrich cannot make a point without personalizing it against the president. But with this crowd, against a black media man, he wins the crowd overwhelmingly. So Newt and Santorum are gaining, it seems to me. Ron Paul has been great – but the crowd seems indifferent to him to my ears.

9.52 pm. "Rich white people don't get the death penalty very often." Yes, I just heard that at a Republican debate. That's that racist Ron Paul for you. Then a brave exposure of the insanity of the war on drugs – citing Martin Luther King Jr. on this, and on warfare. I think Paul is drifting slowly toward a conservatism of non-violence. It's a fascinating promise.

9.50 pm. A reader writes:

Should someone tell Rick Perry that the Supreme Court, ostensibly part of the federal government's "War on Religion", just sided with a religious institution's ability to discriminate against employees — and based its decision on the free exercise clause — and that the only justice who dissented from that decision was a conservative justice appointed by a Republican president?

And should someone tell Mitt Romney, the man who knows how to create jobs and is the bastion of free market capitalism, that his protectionist trade policy vis-a-vis China is more closely aligned with socialism than President Obama's free trade policy with regard to China?

Nah. It's important not to add a sliver of reality to this surreal piece of ideological grandstanding. It might throw them off their game.

9.48 pm. Jeers and boos for someone who has Mexican ancestry. Wow. The rank xenophobia in the GOP base sometimes surprises. And Romney of course aims to please: he'll veto the DREAM Act.

9.47 pm. Finally, Romney says that time will tell whether he will release his tax returns around April. But he hasn't committed to it tonight. "Probably". That's a big "problem."

9.46 pm. They are all seeking even further drastic cuts in federal income taxation. Ron Paul even goes to zero. How on earth are they going to cut the debt if they slash the top rates even further? The radicalism here is breath-taking.

9.42 pm. I literally didn't understand a word of Romney's last answer. It was surreal. And he keeps repeating the lie that Obama has not opened up any markets to US companies. Romney must know that Obama signed three free trade pacts. There's something chilling about his completely utilitarian approach to the truth.

9.39 pm. Is Gingrich arguing against unemployment insurance at all – if it isn't matched by training? Gingrich then says something so outrageous it beggars belief. Obama doesn't believe in work and is trying to maximize dependency. Amazing. They just project onto the president every deranged fantasy they have about their version of "the left."

9.37 pm. Have you noticed how Ron Paul is essentially being ignored in this – surprise! – Fox debate? Perry has had far more of a chance to chip in than Paul. Gingrich has also been sidelined.

9.35 pm. South Carolina is "at war" with the federal government. I doubt Perry doesn't understand the resonance of that phrasing. Then he lies again about the Obama administration's alleged and non-existent "war on organized religion". The sound we just heard – from Perry and the crowd – was the rebel yell.

9.32 pm. Romney cannot really defend himself on his shifting positions on social issues. Then we get a robo-spiel. And look: there's a big difference between opposing creating human ambryos for research and criminalizing all abortion in all states.

9.30 pm. A reader writes:

Jeebus! Round 1: Romney is bleeding from the double-team of Newt/Perry.

Round 2: Santorum is beating the shit out of Romney. 

Another writes:

Romney is so, SO unlikeable — every time he speaks, I like him less. How off-putting is he? He is SO annoying that right now I am liking Perry and candidate Frothy Mix better — both come off as more personable, which is damning with faint praise but true.

Great TV, innit?

9.25 pm. When will Romney tell us why he alone will not release his tax returns? So far, I think Santorum has dominated and will likely benefit. Romney's plasticness is somehow particularly exposed by Santorum's relentless, terrier-like impertinence.

9.22 pm. Santorum trips up Romney's smooth operator schtick. And Romney won't answer. This is where Santorum's assholery can come into its own. Santorum is now defending former felons' right to vote. And then he pounces on Romney for governing under different laws when he was running Massachusetts. Romney then whines about Super Pacs. Maybe someone should ask these candidates about Citizens United. This is great – and Romney is a little rattled. So far: advantage Perry and Santorum.

9.19 pm. How great to see Ron Paul tell it like it is. No apologies for serious criticism of other candidates' record. Santorum has no answer but to blame the left. And that he apologizes for No Child Left Behind. Then a confusing answer on "right to work" issues.

9.16 pm. Seib narrows in on the profits Bain made when its clients still collapsed. Romney doesn't answer on that direct point. Then we have a paean to "free enterprise". As if that was the issue at hand. Still no response on the tax returns. Then a lie: Obama has no jobs plan? Has he heard of the American Jobs Act? How can he just tell lies like that?

9.15 pm. Romney is now blaming China for Bain's bankrupt steel mills. Then the regulations canard.

9.11 pm. Perry goes direct for the Romney jugular on releasing tax returns. It's a real issue. "We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now." Pushing Romney to release his tax returns before South Carolina votes is upping the ante. The crowd likes it.

9.10 pm. Romney's Bain response is slick. But he doesn't address the core issue of the Bain years – the fact that Romney made millions off bankrupting companies. They paid Bain the dividends first.

9.05 pm. I have to say that Newt's defense of his attacks on Romney is understandable – and the notion that somehow there should be no feisty ads or attack lines in primaries is, well, creepy. Yes, Romney needs to be able to respond to the Bain issue – and a primary is the place to do that. And Newt is right about the liabilities of the Bain record – and the fortune he made from it.

9.01 pm. A pretty moderate panel. Gerry Seib and Juan Williams are sane. Don't know the other person, I'm afraid.

(Photo: A supporter of Republican presidential candiate Mitt Romney holds up a campaign sign at an event in front of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, on January 16, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images.)