This post is live-blogging the GOP debate.
10:46 pm A “wild card” question from YouTube, to close the debate, asks who people would want as a running mate. Johnson is honest, with no skin in the game, and he picks fellow traveler Ron Paul. Santorum picks Gingrich—weird—who says he will decline to hurt anyone’s feelings with a pick. Paul says that as a top-three candidate, it’s not appropriate for him to pick. (Huh, there’s a number cut-off for this?) Perry says he would like to mate Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich—a smart way to appeal to popular second-tier candidates. Romney demurs, saying the VP pick is a very serious, lengthy decision process. Cain says he leans towards Romney or Gingrich, and he notes that this is just hypothetical game of a question, anyway.
10:32 pm The debate starts to feel like the most boring book club ever, as Perry and Romney trade accusations about backtracking from their political tomes. Both deny the other candidate’s allegations.
10:31 pm In a largely rehashed discussion of healthcare, Perry says Americans must wonder “which Mitt Romney” they’re hearing, as he recounts several reversals in positions (on healthcare, gun rights and other issues).
10:12 pm Governor Johnson calls for pulling back from the Cuba embargo, at least for some air travel, to a small smattering of applause—an unusual view in GOP presidential politics.
10:09 pm In response to a YouTube question criticizing foreign aid, Gingrich implies that countries that vote against the US in the UN should not receive foreign aid.
10:03 pm According to a “word cloud” displaying the most common word in foreign policy questions submitted to the debate organizers, “Israel” was by far the most frequently used word. Asked about that, Romney criticizes Obama for being insufficiently committed to Israel as an ally, and he dredges up talking points about Obama “apologizing” for America on the world stage.
9:54 pm For the “Google” touch of the night, the debate takes a break from the candidates to go over data from Google searches, which show that Americans are now searching more often for home foreclosures and how to save money on gas. Feels a little forced.
9:49 pm Romney calls for “turning off the magnet” for illegal immigration posed by benefits like in-state school tuition, an attack on Governor Perry. Moderator Chris Wallace says that there were more questions online about Perry’s immigration views than any other candidate’s, an anecdotal snapshot of one weakness for the front-runner. Perry rebuts the idea that he is “soft” on immigration, saying he has spent more time on border security than any other candidate, but that you don’t have a “heart” if you want to punish the children of undocumented workers by denying them education benefits.
9:46 pm A question from an immigration interest group asks if employers should be required to use E-verify to ascertain citizenship of potential employees. Gingrich takes about twenty seconds to propose English as the official language of the US government. That should definitely address the immigration issue.
9:44 pm Perry has repeatedly traded barbs with Romney, showing that he is continuing an unconventional approach for a putative front-runner—punching down rather than staying above the fray. Also, he smirks a lot.
9:40 pm Out of nowhere, Perry blasts Romney for backing Obama’s “Race to the Top” education plan. Romney replies by touting a reduced federal role in education.
9:36 pm Gingirch takes a question about cutting government spending and talks about his record balancing the budget (with Bill Clinton), and he works in a gratuitous Obama socialist reference.
9:33 pm A YouTube question on the first government department that should be elimated draws Herman Cain’s ire for the EPA. Their proposed regulation on dust, he says, shows how far they’ve gone.
9:30 pm Kelly asks if Romney agrees with his opponents that Obama is a socialist. Romney threads the needle, saying Obama is inspired by social-democratic administrations in Europe, and “Europe isn’t working.” But he does not flatly brand Obama a socialist—rhetoric that is popular, of course, with the hard right.
9:29 pm Perry hits back, saying Romney has changed his campaign book to remove positive references to his healthcare plan.
9:28 pm Romney gets in the first attack of the night, pressing Perry on Social Security.
9:27 pm Given the lack of interaction between the candidates up to this point, Mother Jones’s David Corn tweets, “I hope that in the second half, we see questioners debating other questioners.”
9:19 pm Gary Johnson, a libertarian former governor from New Mexico, gets his first question of the night, and one of his most important of the campaign, since most previous debates have excluded him. (The Politico/NBC debate, for example, concluded that his poll numbers were not high enough to merit inclusion.)
9:16 pm The most popular YouTube question, from Brandy and Michael in Spencer, Indiana, asks about restoring the little-used Tenth Amendment to limit federal power. Moderator Chris Wallace hands the question to Ron Paul, who says the key is electing a president who respects state power. Paul gets big cheers.
9:14 pm The crowd cheers Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan.
9:11 pm The first two questions go to Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, a focus on the two putative front-runners that reflects other recent debates.
9:11 pm Kelly asks Gingrich whether he supports extending unemployment insurance benefits. He says that the ninety-nine weeks should be an “investment in human capital,” and thus a training program must be tied to the benefits. He cites his record on welfare reform, a strength for Gingrich with GOP voters. “People should not get money for doing nothing,” he adds.
9:08 pm Anchor Megyn Kelly uses her first question to follow up on an unanswered query from a previous debate, when Representative. Michele Bachmann would not say exactly how much people should take home from every dollar they earn. Bachmann doubles down on the evasion, saying only that people should take home all the money they earn.
9:07 pm Baier asks Romney to define what it means to be rich, but he demurs.
9:03 pm The first debate question, on jobs and small business, comes from a YouTuber, and moderator Brett Baier tosses it to Rick Perry, who gives a standard, vague answer. Then Baier turns to Romney, telling him that one of his top Google searches is about specifics on his jobs plan. Romney says he wants to lower taxes on small businesses, and touts the “59 points” in his jobs plan.