Live-Blogging The Florida NBC Debate

10.55 pm. A reader sums it up:

Not sure if we just watched a debate between Two-Face and the Penguin. Watching Newt waddle off the stage really made me think that the visual fits.

But he waddled off a statesman. In his own mind. Another writes:

I just walked out to the living room to find my husband passed out (from boredom) on the couch. I can't vote as I am a registered Democrat in Florida and my husband can't vote as he's a registered Independent. We just want the ads to stop.

They've only just begun. And after the statesmanlike torpor tonight, they'll have to be vicious. We'll keep you posted. Every day with our Ad War Update. As for the neologism of the night, a reader notes:

In response to your question about who "self-deports"… didn't Romney's granddad self-deport to Mexico to maintain his right be married to more than woman at a time?

Yes, he did. But I suspect he'd have more in common with Newt than Mitt in that regard.

10.42 pm. What a different Gingrich tonight: eager to thank and support his rivals; humble with respect to the huge challenges ahead. He has decided to cut the fireworks to foil his critics. And I presume his Super PAC will meanwhile open up various cans of whup-ass on Romney. So this is Newt on his best behavior. Even when Romney called him a "disgrace" three times.

Maybe Gingrich is trying to reassure the establishment that he is not the constant bomb-thrower and surprise agent. Maybe he realizes he needs to look more presidential. My own take is that this gambit cannot work for Newt. He is not a serene statesman. He's a ferocious demagogue. That's all he knows. I don't find the new Newt very appealing. But maybe tactically, it makes sense.

As for Romney, he was back on form, but also oddly Romney-esque. The crude and dumb attacks on Obama remained. The occasional weirdness – why is he so proud that Ted Kennedy took out a new mortgage? why brag that he'd pay no taxes under Newt's tax plan? – endured. The confidence returned, but still no character and no personality to engage with.

Santorum? Competent and unlikable. Paul? Well, you know what I think. This was a great line:

"How can you be conservative and cut food stamps, but not cut a penny over-seas …"

That line may well have more resonance in the future than anything else tonight, if, as now seems possible, Obama wins in a landslide.

Anyway, it's late now and it's time to self-deport. Maybe the tax releases tomorrow will be more exciting.

10.39 pm. Santorum does very well on his stark contrast to president Obama, in contrast with Gingrich and Romney. Then Paul reminds us that constant war is not a real conservative value. 

10.37 pm. A reader writes:

Until tonight, I turned on the Republican debates, heard the crown hoot and holler, turned it off and followed it on your live-blog.  Tonight, I turned it on, could hear a pin drop, watched and listened to the men on the stage.  First time in 18 debates –  kudos to NBC for pulling the plug on bloodlust.

10.34 pm. How does having a family advance conservatism as an ideology? Or working for a private equity company? Just when you think Romney has rallied, he gives you a lame-ass answer like that one. And ends it with a smirk.

10.29 pm. So Gingrich says that the Bush tax cuts helped the economy not to go under after 9/11. Does that mean that the Obama tax cuts helped the economy not to enter a Second Great Depression? Or does Keynesian economics only work under Republicans?

But notice how that question – why didn't the Bush tax cuts work? – should have prompted an anti-media tirade from Newt. It't the perfect set-up, and also the kind of valid point that usually makes Newt's head explode. But he just went along with it. He seems completely robbed of that South Carolina fire. Is it the audience? Or is he just exhausted? I wouldn't blame him. But Romney has, in my view, done well in this debate so far. Because he has never really been challenged.

10.25 pm. No one has laid a hand on Romney so far. After the first exchange between him and Newt, the attacks evaporated. Romney seems to have won the alpha dog fight. Either that or Newt has finally decided to calm down and control his anger. That way, he'll lose. Without anger, he is oddly small.

10.23 pm. Newt has finally found a reason for a judge to exist – to keep people alive for ever. Then Paul urges living wills. Sanity as usual.

10.20 pm. Maybe I was too hyped up for fight night, but NBC has managed to drain the entire thing of drama. Some readers, however, like it:

Sorry, Andrew. I think Brian Williams is doing fine. Calm, rational, but with pointed questions that get the candidates answering directly – without making himself or how the questions are asked the issue. This is the kind of debate we should have.


Gingrich cannot perform outside of high drama. He plays one note, but it can only be played under a specific media-centric form of duress. 

There is a method to Williams' dullness.

A reader writes:

I used to think that Ron Paul's analogies regarding how "we" would feel if "they" did that to us were cliched and obvious, but they have really grown on me. His analogy regarding the Gulf of Mexico really opened my eyes. If someone set up a blockade in the Gulf, we would consider it an act of war and obliterate it immediately. The only reason we think that we can set up a blockade in foreign waters and say it is not an act of war is because the offended country wouldn't be stupid enough to retaliate against a military superpower. It's like the bully politely asking for the nerd's lunch money: the only reason the transaction takes place without a fight is because the nerd is smart enough to realize if he doesn't comply he will end up with a broken nose. But that doesn't mean the bully is practicing peaceful diplomacy.

He's opened my eyes as well. Along with the reaction of the GOP establishment to his truths.

10.16 pm. Romney is using the golfing smear! Romney? Then a series of bald-faced lies about Obama. There have been no private sector jobs created since the stimulus? There have only been private sector jobs, as the public sector – mainly in the states – has slashed employment.

10.14 pm. This reader may have a point about that earlier pause in the Mitt-Newt flare-up:

That was a somewhat strange and long stretch of silence from Newt, but to me it didn't feel like he was afraid but pausing to let his first instinctive impulse — exploding in a red fury — pass. I thought he was, for maybe the very first time in his professional life, remembering and acting upon somebody else's advice to stay calm.

But when there is not a demos, there can be no demagogue.

10.12 pm. A new Romney verb: to "self-deport." Who on earth does that?

10.10 pm. Newt backtracks on the DREAM Act, by shifting it to military service alone. They're a little close to saying that immigrant children need to risk their lives to be able to stay in the country in which they grow up.

10.07 pm. Great question about English as a national language. Newt parries it rather well, I'd say, even though his argument about hundreds of different languages is bullshit. Spanish is different – because it is spoken by far, far more Americans than any other language but English. But both Newt and Mitt shone on this. The graveyard quiet helps Romney's calm, soporific tone. Paul again suggests that different states could have different languages. You never know what he'll say next, do you?

10.06 pm. A reader writes:

Newt is neutered without a crowd hungry for applause lines and visceral overstatement. Romney, in contrast, is clearly comfortable with the more formal flavor. And Paul is almost serene as Santorum fades into his own podium. A weird dynamic, indeed.

10.03 pm. Williams gives Santorum his wet dream of starting a war on Iran. He again equates the Shiite theocracy with the radical, stateless Sunni al Qaeda. How many Americans have been murdered by Iran's regime in the US? Does he conflate all Muslims abroad?

9.57 pm. I love Ron Paul. Only he would challenge the Cuba embargo in Florida! And only he would point out that Iran has been subjected to a de facto blockade of their oil exports – and that their military threats are entirely understandable from their point of view. He sees these wars as terrible, expensive, no-win hassles. And after the last decade, you can see his point.

In contrast, the other three seem set in trying to revive the late 20th Century America. Iraq is never mentioned. Afghanistan? All Romney can say is that we need to "beat the Taliban."

9.56 pm. Does Gingrich think the Iranians think Obama is weak? When he has assembled the most damaging set of sanctions and covert war on the country since 1979?

9.52 pm. Santorum so misses the Cold War. Now he's linking Cuba with the Jihadists. Meanwhile, on Fox, Fred Thompson just endorsed Gingrich. The best line of the night, though, is Ponnuru's on Romney on Castro's death: "Maybe Mitt should avoid talking about the afterlife."

9.48 pm. Newt wants a "very aggressive policy" for regime change in Cuba, and sets a four year limit on getting rid of the communist regime in Cuba. He successfully out-panders Romney. And Ron Paul gets the first genuine laugh of the night. And give him this: he will go to Florida for a primary and complain about the Cuba embargo. Amazing. Awesome.

9.46 pm. Say this for Brian Williams. He's the first moderator to ask why the right response to the Wall Street crash is less regulation.

9.44 pm. "The debt has to be liquidated!" Has Ron Paul said that in every debate? Has any phrase been more anti-septic compared with its real-world impact?

9.40 pm. A reader sums up the consensus:

Newt is on the defense a lot, it seems to me. And Paul has moved his sights from Santorum to Gingrich. Paul's convinced he will be last man standing against Romney.

9.35 pm. Where did Brian Williams go? The direct one-on-one between Newt and Mitt was – however – fascinating. When it comes down to it, I thought Romney won the confrontation. Gingrich was always on the defensive, and the argument that working for Freddie Mac had nothing to do with lobbying or influence peddling is unpersuasive on its face.

There was a moment in that exchange when Gingrich simply went silent. That doesn't happen very often. It felt as if the demagogue had been exposed and was actually somewhat afraid. But it's a weird dynamic on that stage. I can't quite grasp it yet.

9.32 pm. So the crowd has been told to be quiet. And now Romney is beginning to make headway on Freddie Mac. The historian line is not working for Newt. But there's no passion in Mitt's challenge. Now they're fighting over how much Bain was worth.

9.29 pm. It's on Channel 211 in DC. Several readers couldn't find it either.  One reason: the listing is "Fear Factor: Leeches and Shaved Heads & Tear Gas, Oh My!" Sounds more interesting.

9.26 pm. Romney says he won't follow his father's example in releasing 12 years of tax returns. He'll present two years – years in which he knew he was running for president. And Gingrich has now promised to reduce Mitt's effective tax rate to zero. Great.

9.22 pm. Catching up on the early attacks from Romney. They sound comprehensive and uninspired, and Gingrich didn't take the bait. Hence the staggering silence from the crowd.

9.21 pm. Brian Williams is awful – just boring and uninterested in actual issues.

9.20 pm. Callista did his hair. It looks the same color as hers now. So where's the curl?

9.18 pm. It seems really dead, so far. I missed the fireworks. Maybe they were squibs. And now Brian Williams seems to be asking purely process questions.

9.15 pm. Deepest apologies. Found it finally. Of course it isn't listed.

9.10 pm. Still cannot find it anywhere on my cable line-up, and the web isn't helping either.

9.05 pm I cannot find the NBC channel. Bear with me.