Liveblogging the Florida GOP Debate

5:58pm (All times Mountain, probably.) I’m ready to go. But you should know that I’ve had three hours of sleep following extended drinking last night after a Halloween party. If I’m especially cranky tonight… well, you’ve seen one of these debates before.


6:01pm What to watch for tonight: Fred or Tommy Thompson, whichever one shows less presence tonight. Fred by being there, or Tommy by having dropped out more than a month ago. It could be tight.

6:02pm Jim Greer: Look, I’m on TV, and I’m only a state chairman! Cool! Loosely translated introduction.

6:03pm Ron Paul got some big applause, or so I thought until they announced Huckabee, then Rudy, then Mitt. This is a wild crowd. Well, “Republican Wild.” As in maybe they’ll put olives in their scotch later.

6:05pm To Rudy: You’re soft on social issues. So who is the real conservative, you or one of those Thompsons? Rudy: I cut taxes and spending, took away hardly any guns and personally aborted zero babies. OK?

6:07pm To Mitt: You’re just like Rudy, aren’t you? A secret lefty, yes? Mitt: I’m going to put the Reagan Coalition back together. So I’m Reagan, but with even more hair. Did you hear me? *More* hair. Again, I’m translating as best as I can while typing and listening.

6:09pm To Fred: Are you SURE you’re the real conservative after all that hair? Fred: I’m certainly genial and folksy, and I’m pro-life for real. To be fair, the folksy stuff is really working with the crowd. I think they drove down from the Florida Panhandle. To be unfair, Jeebus, he’s rambling.

6:10pm Rudy: Fred was the single largest block in the Senate to tort reform. Or did he say “tallest?” In any case, it seems like a good case.

6:11pm Fred counters that he’s supported all kinds of tort reform. The good news is, he’s speaking quickly and energetically. The bad news is, Fred does seem to be rambling still. Unrehearsed is great, so long as you’ve rehearsed it well enough. I’m not sure he has.

6:12pm To McCain: Who is more conservative, you or the other guys? I’ll say it again, debate after debate… McCain looks and sounds to me so tired, that it’s hard for me to concentrate on what he’s saying.

6:14 Mitt: “Senator McCain is an American hero.” “But I ran against Ted Kennedy one time, which is a lot like getting shot down by the North Vietnamese and get taken prisoner for six years.”


6:15pm McCain: I don’t call in lawyers. And I’ll tell you what, McCain did not sound tired just then.

6:15.5pm McCain might be tonight’s King Soundbyte.

6:15.75 And to be clear, I mean that as a compliment.

6:16pm Mitt is talking about hypothetically taking the nation to war as President. You could almost hear Ron Paul screaming “That’s the job of Congress!” provided you’re a canine.

6:17pm Dr. Paul sounds sensible, talking about gay marriage, and why the government should bug out. Of course, I’m much more likely to agree with Paul on domestic issues than your average voter. But wait’ll we get back to forgiegn affairs…

6:19pm Mitt says that if one state recognizes gay marriage, then soon all the other states will swing both ways. Sounds almost as scary as sending pairs of teenage boys out to harass housewives on their doorsteps.

6:21pm Rudy doesn’t like gay marriage either, and would amend the constitution to stop it. Where’s the “conservatism” in messing with the Constitution for the express purpose of preventing marriages?

6:22 Remind me: Was it Huckabee or Brownback who dropped out on Friday? Well, the surviving guy is talking abortion and getting the crowd pretty worked up. I’m sure it doesn’t matter, as he’ll be the next one to go.

6:24pm Fred Thompson: Lots of “ums” and throat-clearings on the abortion issue. He doesn’t look comfortable. So much so, that I’m wondering if OB-GYN Dr. Paul is giving him a thorough inspection below the camera angle.

6:25pm McCain wants a united party going into election day next November. Again, I’d like to hear Paul address that.

6:26pm Tancredo gets his first question, 25 minutes in. I’m so impressed that he didn’t complain, that I forgot what the question was. But looking back, I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “Are YOU the real conservative here tonight? Are you SURE?”

6:28pm Same question for Hunter Duncan (Duncan Hunter? I’ll get it right before he drops out, I swear). “Man, JFK screwed up Cuba. But Reagan saved Grenada, and that was better, so I’ll be more like that.”


6:29pm Next topic: Health care and education. The topic switch promises the threat of actual answers. You’ve been warned.

6:30pm McCain: HillaryCare! Tax hikes! Democrats want to turns us into tundra-munching Canadians! He’s right, of course, which is one of maybe two reasons that makes the Republican field worth looking at this year.

6:31pm Ron Paul talks about privatizing medical care, and all I can think is, “Jeebus, but I wish this guy were otherwise sane enough to vote for! And would stop talking like a helium-filled Chihuahua!

6:33pm To Mitt: Why did you really socialize medicine in Massachusetts, and would you really stand up to a Democratic Congress wanting to do the same? Mitt worked in a Katrina reference, which fell totally flat, and now is weaseling out of a straight answer — government mandates are somehow free-market based. Huh?

6:35pm Hunter/Duncan is calling Mitt to task on that one, with a funny about a 90-year-old woman taking advantage of mandated fertility coverage. It worked, and Mitt is responding with all-too-dry facts and figures. The joker wins this round.

6:37pm The Former Fat Guy/Current Nanny Stater (Brownback? Huckabee?) says we’re all fat, and if we’d just slim down and quit retiring then we wouldn’t have to spend so much. Best line: “Wait’ll the old hippies find out they get free drugs.” Ha! I want mandatory Absolut coverage.

6:39pm To Tancredo: How do you expand coverage to 50 million Americans? You want to talk to me? You really want to talk to me? Also, “Michael Moore is an idiot.” And, well, yeah. And he got the crowd into it, too.

6:40pm To Fred: How would you change No Child Left Behind, since it obviously sucks? Fred: Yes, it sucks. The Feds only spend about 8% of education dollars, but it should spend those wisely and there should be free markets and vouchers and charter schools and experimentation and the Russians don’t take a crap without a plan… and I think I got lost in that answer somewhere.

6:42pm To Rudy: You said you “met your match” with the school system, which you also said “should be blown up.” The question was so great, Rudy doesn’t even need to answer. He stumbled at first, looking for a way to suck back up to teachers, thought better of it and said, “Sorry, but I care more about the students.” Other than the stumble, it was Rudy at his best. But then instead of shutting up, he repeated Fred’s laundry list. Lost all his momentum.


6:43pm Commercial break. Time to top off the second martini. And by “top off” I mean, “swill down and refill.”

6:45pm So my all-too-generous editor says, “You’re on fire tonight.” Thanks, but I’m mostly tired and cranky – the *real* secrets to good blogging.

6:47pm To everyone: You’re all losing to Hillary in the polls. Let’s talk about that, huh?!?

6:48pm Unflappable Mitt starts in about China and Jihad and that Hillary has never worked in the private sector and… well, it’s all very smooth, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and it’s still mostly non-sequiter.

6:49pm “I asked specifically, is she fit to be commander-in-chief.” Finally, he says, “No!” The crowd goes wild, so why didn’t he just say that? Instead, Mitt let Wallace spoon-feed him.

6:50pm Rudy just says, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I have problems with Rudy, but he’s got the guts Mitt had replaced with leftover parts from the Stepford Factory.

6:52pm Rudy also says, “If the polls are right, we’d have President Gore and maybe things would be a bit colder now.” Also, “We’re not going to boycott Florida like the Democrats will.” Again, sharp instincts. The guy is a prosecutor and it shows. Is he too wild to be President? Maybe. But he’s the one sign of life in this (pretty meaningless) debate.

6:53pm McCain: I stopped Hillary from spending your money on a Woodstock museum. And: I missed Woodstock, I was tied up at the time. Again, I don’t know if McCain, like Rudy, has the temperament to be Pres. But he’s got guts tonight.

6:54pm To Huckabee: Was it a mistake to skip the minority-themed debates? “Yes.” And then an Aerosmith joke — possibly the whitest band never to feature Mel Torme. I just got whiplash.

6:56pm Fred, channeling Hillary: “Let’s let the tax cuts expire and just spend it!” Finally, on fire, he says, “They’re the party that tries our troops in the newspapers.”

6:57pm Fred went a good 30 seconds over his time, still on fire, and they let him get away with it. This might be the moment Fred fans have been waiting for.


6:58pm Paul thinks even the Democrats are too far to the right on the war — and he got seriously booed. Where is his 70% margin of victory with non-online people?

6:59pm Fred falters again. Brit gave him a question with a lot of subclauses, and Thompson looked confused and said “Yes!” He eventually found his footing, but sometimes it’s apparent that most of the gravel in his voice is actually phlegm.

7:02pm Rudy: (paraphrased) “We need private solutions to Social Security and Medicaid.” Well, yeah. Why not just start repealing laws, rather than mandating “private” solutions?

7:04pm Mitt: We’re not going to cut current benefits. Not even by means-testing? I wonder how he’s going to save any money anywhere? I thought he was supposed to be smart about finance.

7:05pm Mitt also says he “solved” Medicare and Medicaid in Massachusetts. Let’s look at his state in five years and see if that’s still true. ‘Cause I ain’t buying. But he did work in yet another Reagan quote, reminding me yet again how great his hair is. And by “great” I mean, “The size of Branson, Missouri.”

7:06pm Huckabee is talking again, maybe about Brownback, or the other way around. I’m trying to care, really. But I didn’t sleep much. And even if I had…

7:08pm Paul: “We should do our best,” to pay off current retirees, but “let young people” opt out. In a sane world, I’d love to vote for this guy. But again he’s tying everything into the Fed, and I realized that it’s not just the world that’s insane.

7:09pm McCain: We’re not dying at 67 anymore! Especially not me! Who doesn’t sound at all tired! Really!

7:10pm Hunter/Duncan: Young people need bigger paychecks. Best pander of the night!

7:10.5 Wait — I *do* still count as “young,” right?

7:10.75 Then he goes on to say that ending free trade will save SS and Medicare/Caid. And I thought Paul was freakin’ nuts.

7:12pm Tancredo is for privitization, too. But he’s light on specifics and long on volume, and even louder, even here, about immigration control. My head is spinning, and not just because of lost sleep and gained cocktails.


7:13pm Brit is promising a Lightning Round after the commerical break. I am SO topping off my martini before they come back.

7:16pm To McCain: Putin is going to build lots more missiles and stuff. New Cold War brewing? “McCain, I might be old, but I’m not foolish enough to defend Bush policies.” He also got in a great KGB gag on Putin. Points and style to McCain on this one.

7:18pm Hunter: We can work with Putin with putting American Aegis cruisers in the Black Sea to stop Iranian missiles that Putin will sell to Iran. OK, I added that last bit, but Hunter should have known better than to leave it out. He’s not making sense.

7:20pm My editor will squash this, but Rudy just said pretty much, “F—- Russia, expand NATO.” I don’t know if bringing Australia into an Atlantic alliance makes much sense, but he gets big style points.

7:22pm To Fred: “Shouldn’t the Turks be allowed to go into Iraq to defend themselves?” Fred: The PKK are terrorists, too. But “we have friends on both sides.” But “we have friends on both sides.” And he’s back to rambling. Weak stuff.

7:23pm Hunter/Duncan (short version): Pelosi is an idiot.

7:24pm Brownback/Huckabee: Dispatch the Secretary of State! Lameness.

7:25pm Paul: “The Founders advised against interventionism” Unless, you know, it involved Indian tribes, British forts in the old Northwest, North African pirates, Royal Navy incursions, etc. The man, again, sounds nuts, and he got thoroughly booed. Again, I ask: In the real world, where is Paul’s 77% support? You take away his online ballot-box stuffers, and Paul is a stuffed suit.

7:28pm To Paul: “Has the Republican Party left you, or have these other gentlemen left the party?” GREAT question. And Paul comes out swinging, rightfully noting that the Republicans have become big spenders. But then his voice goes up three octaves and goes off on foreign policy and history lessons. Tip: When you have 60 seconds, leave out the history lessons.

7:29pm Rudy wants sanctions to work on Iran, and he makes his position sound solidly conservative. Paul has explicitly said he would take away sanction power from Washington. What kind of position is that, against a nascent (and hostile) nuclear power?


7:31pm To Fred: They say you’re lazy and they’re right, huh? Fred: I worked a farm and became a bigshot lawyer. And, oh yeah, I made a bunch of movies and went to the Senate and I’ve got a lot of money and a hot wife and I can still make babies and who’s lazy now, bitch?

7:32pm And that closes the debate.

7:33pm My last (first? only?) thoughts: Thompson exceeded expectations, I think, keeping him running. McCain had the best soundbites, Rudy had the best instincts, and Mitt turned out his worst performance to date. Tonight’s winner: Hillary Clinton, for being the focus of 15 minutes of a short debate.

7:34pm Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a double.


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