Live-Blogging The Jacksonville Debate

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10.10 pm. Some reader points:

Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration said, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable." After Adams and Franklin reviewed it, the phrase became "self-evident." The change, I think, underscores your point that there was a considered secularism to the final text.


If Romney wins this thing, we can say that Newt has transformed Romney from a conference room candidate into a modern day Republican party politician. We'll see if he can live with himself.

Oh he can live with himself. Another:

Santorum may have gotten applause for that answer, but it pure nonsense to say America was founded on “God-given rights.” What, like slavery and limiting the right to vote to men? So when we emancipated the slaves, we were going against God’s will?

10.01 pm. Given Mitt's big financial advantage in advertizing in Florida, and the two debates, I think Gingrich lost this campaign in the past week. It wasn't just the Drudge-Fox-Coulter establishment that will have done it. It was his much improved debate performance tonight. Probably foolish to say but if Romney wins Florida, with a winner-takes-all delegate haul, Newt's wait for Super Tuesday will be a long and nail-biting one. Ron Paul? Oh, it's only just begun.

The question is whether Paul's and Santorum's great performances – better than Newt or Mitt – will now alter the race. And how.

9.59 pm. Romney gives a brief, short stump speech. It goes down well. It is also instantly forgettable. Newt's final summary was, I think, his best moment tonight. The case for a Big Election means a Big Ideological Radical. Santorum then talks about the "global warming hoax." Santorum is right that Obama's manufacturing section in his SOTU was ripping off Santorum.

9.58 pm. Sorry, Ron, Obama ended the war in Iraq; he did not expand it. And he is winding down the war in Afghanistan, after decimating al Qaeda and killing bin Laden.

9.49 pm. Only Ron Paul understands the correct role of religion. Fantastic answer. Brief, sweet, genuine, and Christian, not Christianist. Of these four, I'd vote for him tonight. But most will surely go for Mitt.

But this was an evangelical question about a Mormon. Romney dodges it. Is Mormonism part of the Judeo-Christian tradition? Advice to Newt: don't use the words "truly faithful." Both Romney and Gingrich are endorsing the fusion of religion and politics that is now at the core of the current GOP.

Santorum then insists that all our rights come from God. Why do they not notice that the key phrase in that sentence is "we hold these truths to be self-evident." What I think is brilliant about that sentence is its nuance, its founding this country on something "self-evident." The "Creator" line has always truck me as rote – not unimportant, but routine for the time. What was new for the time was that rather post-modern attempt not to prove the truths of individual freedom, or defend them on the basis of divine authority, but to base them on a self-reinforcing, impenetrable, simple assertion that the argument they are about to make is "self-evident."

The biggest epistemological dodge imaginable. And the most brilliant. Have a fight with someone nad hear them defend their position as "self-evident." Would that seem like he was invoking divine authority as his primary case?

9.42 pm. Fantastic question from a Palestinian-American insisting he exists. Then Romney pretends that Abbas and Fayyad are no different than Hamas. And a big lie. Not only has Obama spoken of the rockets coming into Israel, he went to Sderot, the town under attack! Then there cannot be "an inch" between the US and Israel. Which means the US must support the permanent annexation and colonization of Judea and Samaria and have our foreign policy determined by the neo-fascist, Avigdor Lieberman.

Then Gingrich panders to the Florida Jewish vote with his bid to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Adelson has gotten his money's worth. There is no mention of the progress in the West Bank or of the shift in the Palestinian leadership these past few years. The PA did not fire rcokets into Jerusalem.

9.38 pm. Once again, Paul is fucking hilarious. "I'd ask Raul Castro what he was calling about!" Then a heroic – yes heroic – attack on the Cuba embargo and its anachronism. I'm beginning to wonder if Paul's and Santorum's vote will increase after tonight. And from whom each might take some votes. Probably from Gingrich. This has been a disastrous night for him, and because of today's coordinated attacks, I wanted him to fight back.

9.36 pm. A reader gets it right, I think:

I've never seen Gingrich more caught off guard than when he was asked to defend the Swiss bank account attack. He was completely ready to back down but then, in true Newtonian fashion, decided to blindly fight back. Unfortunately for him, Romney was more than ready to answer these baseless attacks about where Romney's money is held. Gingrich has never seemed more confused and off-balance than he was in that moment. He flailingly reached for a counter-attack about Romney's own ads but had nothing specific that he could think of on the spot.

It was the best exposure of Gingrich two-facedness I've ever seen, and I hope it helps tank his campaign.

9.35 pm. Gingrich finally wins a round. The Reagan one.

9.32 pm. A reader writes:

The kid glove treatment Gingrich has used towards Paul seems like a calculation to me. In his mind, he thinks that he could sway the young and intelligent Ron Paul supporters to his cause by co-opting some of his ideas and treating him with more respect than he shows Romney or Santorum. He's fooling himself, but what else is new?

Another notes:

For a second there, when Newt mentioned all "three" ladies would be great first ladies, I thought he was talking about his wives, former and current. Just when you think it's safe to pause for a drink of water. I almost choked.

9.28 pm. Holy shit. Romney actually reminded people that his only wife had both multiple sclerosis and cancer and he stuck with her. Wow. When he wants to stab someone in the front, he knows how. Another slam dunk for Romney. But Santorum's touching answer about his children was also powerful. And will win many panhandle evangelical votes with this.

9.26 pm. Yes, you weren't hallucinating. The crowd cheered the individual mandate at one point. And if only Obama had made the defense of his healthcare reform as effectively as Romney did so tonight. It really shows Obama's political malpractice in never ever truly defending his signature reform. Cowardice: pure and simple.

9.23 pm. A few dissents from my judgment that Romney has wrapped this up. One reader:

Actually Mitt came off as a rich prick. Who says "it wasn't my decision; it was a blind trust!" A rich prick that's who.


Romney pwning Newt? WTF? Anyone from the South will tell you that Newt is kicking Romney's ass around the room.

Sorry, not buying it.

9.22 pm. A perfect Romney phrase: "a terrific Hispanic leader."

9.21 pm. Gingrich all but offers Rubio the veep slot. Panderrrrr!

9.20 pm. A reader writes:

Newt Gingrich pulled off some miracle wins recently, but now the game film is out on him. Now everyone knows how to take away his greatest asset. In short, he's Tim Tebow. And we all know what happened when Tebow went up against an organization that was well run from top to bottom.

9.19 pm. The Gingrich-Paul strange bromance continues.

9.17 pm. Romney is attacking Obama for cutting Medicare. And Santorum destroys Romney on the individual mandate. This is Santorum at his debating best.

9.09 pm. A rip-roaring answer from Romney on healthcare. But none of them is tackling the core issue: healthcare costs. Then Santorum focuses on Obamacare and Romneycare, both have which have individual mandates and free market insurance policy exchanges. He's right that both Newt and Mitt are crippled in their attacks on the health insurance reform. Santorum totally pwned him on that one: "we cannot give away this issue in this campaign." That's even truer if the economy is reviving.

Then Romney makes the core philosophical point for Obamacare. It was very eloquent. Even Obama hasn't put the case for his own healthcare policy so well. Which kinda proves Santorum's point, doesn't it?

9.08 pm. But, Newt, what if she cannot afford to buy any of the insurance policies on offer in the private sector? Has that occurred to you?

9.05 pm. Ron Paul is sparkling tonight. He even attacked Reagan's fiscal irresponsibility and called Newt on his fiscal record. If I lived in Florida and were a Republican and a citizen – ha! – I'd vote for Paul after tonight. Romney is walking away with this, but Paul is easily the more honest. Oddly, the dynamic tonight is helping Paul and Santorum – which is more bad news for Newt.

9.01 pm. Newt is coming back on space, I think. At least he sounds confident and optimistic. And he has a point about the collateral inspiration of NASA. Romney does really well against Newt on the pandering issue. This is over. Even when Newt seems to rally, Romney comes back with a real slam. But, wait, Newt is returning with a good point about listening to local concerns. And then Newt revives with a riff on greatness.

8.56 pm. I'm sorry but space policy puts me in an instant coma. But they all sounded fine. I can't imagine anything they are now saying will have any impact in even the tiniest way on anything in the actual world. The best answer was Santorum's.

8.53 pm. Paul's response to the medical records was one of the best of the night: funny, charming, and to the point. All candidates, by the way, agree to do this year what Sarah Palin refused to do in the last cycle. And for asking for those medical records, I was accused by Fox News of not being an "actual journalist."

8.51 pm. The last question and Santorum's response on exempting the very wealthy from any contribution to reducing the debt and the deficit is the reason Obama has easily the stronger argument in this election.

8.45 pm. So Newt tries to regain the initiative by bashing the media. Then he loses the battle with Wolf Blitzer – and allows Romney once again to win the exchange. Brutal. Newt is finished. If he can't win on his own turf in his own game – demagoguing in front of a Southern debate audience (this is Jacksonville, not Miami) – then he has lost the whole thing.

8.40 pm. Then Santorum jumps on the Paul note and demands an end to all this personal Newt-Mitt bickering. Disingenuous, of course. But the right move for him. Rick and Ron won the crowd on this one in the end, but Romney's early brutalization of Newt will remain in voters' minds. He took the alpha dog position from the get-go; and Newt's attempt to go after him backfired.

That's the worst combo for a fighter like Newt. If you throw a rhetorical grenade, make sure your opponent doesn't have the time and opportunity to throw it back. This means Newt has got to have a strong counter-attack now that sticks. But the dynamic is going against him.

8.39 pm. And then Ron Paul, with a dose of humor and integrity, breaks the ice with a lovely riff on the Newt-Mitt death match and then moves onto the real issue of GSEs.

8.36 pm. Newt goes after Romney on earning investments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Romney says it wasn't his decision; it was a blind trust. Then he says that Newt has investments in Freddie Mac himself. How did Newt not see that coming? Then Romney brings up the lobbying for Freddie Mac. And Newt is knocked flat into the ropes again. Anoher knockout for Romney.

8.33 pm. Do I believe that Mitt Romney didn't know about the language in his own ad? Or did he just feign ignorance in order to force Newt to repeat what he said. And he got that done, twice. He's destroying Newt right now. And now he's on a Freddie Mac roll against Newt. This first round is going to Romney by a mile.

8.31 pm. Paul points out the core element of Rick Santorum's foreign policy: the use of force.

8.29 pm. A reader notes:

Santorum wants on the Romney ticket … and tonight the public overtures start.  And if you think about it, this being Santorum's last stand, and maybe last chance at anything, it's the smart thing to do.  He's everything Mitt isn't.  (Not a Mormon, not filthy rich, and not a stiff empty suit.)  And he'd be a great attack dog, letting Mitt take the high road.

Seaking of which, Santorum just accused Obama of "siding with Marxists" and believes that there is a burgeoning Jihadist movement in Central and South America.

8.27 pm. My favorite line so far: you need to be "more realistic in your indignation." Yes, that was a quote from Newt.

8.20 pm. It's getting pissy fast. Romney wins a huge point by attacking Newt for calling him anti-immigrant. He shows anger. He shows passion. And Newt doesn't counter-attack with the same level of anger. Romney is killing him so far. And Newt ends up defending "grandmothers". And Romney pwns him again. Newt's red faced jowls contrast with Romney's calm Bob Forehead.

And then Romney manages to bring up the Newt gaffe when he spoke about Spanish being the language of the ghetto. And then makes the English-only language. You have to hand it to Romney: he just out-Newted Newt.

8.14 pm. Grandmothers won't self-deport, says Newt. A nice blend of red meat for the panhandle and serious compassion for long-term illegal immigrants. Romney accidentally calls 11 million illegal immigrants "Americans." But he then tries to seem compasionate toward immigrants who are brought across the border by coyotes.

8.13 pm. Santorum wins the introduction round. What great teeth his mother has. And then he loses the Latino vote for support from the Jacksonville crowd.

8.06 pm. It's on. Quote of the night:

“Look at Newt Gingrich, what’s going on with him, via the establishment’s attacks. They’re trying to crucify this man and rewrite history, and rewrite what it is that he has stood for all these years.”

That's Palin. And by the way, that would require a pretty sturdy cross. 

7.57 pm.  This graph from TPM and the tsunami of establishment slime against Newt seems to me to suggest one thing. Newt is back up against the wall, and we know what that means. At least I hope so. All this piling on has made me want to support the underdog, and see him savage Romney tonight from the get-go.