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GOP 2012 Debate
John Birch Society
The John Birch Society, a debate
co-sponsor, at a pre-debate exhibition.
 
So tonight's the night: the Republican presidential campaign officially gets underway with the party's first debate, coming to us live from Greenville, South Carolina. We'll be livemocking it right here, and you can watch it on GOPtv Fox News Channel (online broadcast here), its national sponsor.

The debate is sponsored locally by The John Birch Society among others. Yes, you read that right. The John Birch Society is a co-sponsor of tonight's debate. In fact, their president called Lindsay Graham a socialist and demanded his ouster at a tea party rally earlier today. He shared the stage with South Carolina's GOP Governor Nikki Haley, who owes her political success to Sarah Palin, herself a fan of The John Birch Society.

Of the the five candidates, only three of them have any sort of meaningful national political profile: Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who is a favorite of GOP insiders; Ron Paul, who has managed to turn the GOP far to the right since Fox banned him from the 2008 debates; and Rick Santorum, whose last name has a frothy texture. Herman Cain is the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and Gary Johnson was the governor of New Mexico.

So far, most of the previews seem to focus all their attention on Tim Pawlenty since he's the only candidate who GOP insiders seem likely to be willing to support as the party's nominee. Every other "serious" candidate has bowed out, even including jokes like Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, a fact that earned Pawlenty's scorn.

I guess the big challenge for Pawlenty will be to prove that he wasn't a complete idiot for showing up a Bircher-sponsored debate that every other major candidate decided to skip. His campaign says he decided to do it because nobody knows who he is, but while honest, that's hardly a demonstration of confidence. Bottom-line: if he can't even separate himself from this pack of losers, it's hard to see how he'll separate himself when the real candidates are on stage.

Update: Brett Baier is the host. He noted Pawlenty served two full terms as governor. Normally you don't have to point out when governors complete their terms but I guess that makes sense for the GOP.

Update: Baier clearly wants to keep the debate focused on President Obama, not the candidates. Each of the first two questions about have been about Obama. BTW, Santorum is the first one to credit Bush for getting Bin Laden, though Pawlenty said it was something that should be investigated. It wasn't until the third question, for Ron Paul, that a question not directly having to do with Obama was asked.

Update: Ron Paul says he wants out of Afghanistan. Paulbots applaud. Herman Cain says it's not clear what the mission is in Afghanistan. Pressed by Baier to explain what he think the goal is, Cain says he'd have his experts make the decision. And he stopped mid-sentence when his buzzer went off. Gary Johnson says he is against Afghanistan, so now we have 2 of 3 candidates to speak about Afghanistan to explicitly oppose it, and one who said he has no clue why we are there, though maybe he'd stay.

Update: Rick Santorum stands by his claim that Islam is fundamentally predisposed to violent extremism, but says he isn't anti-Islam. (Does that mean he's not against violent extremism?) Really, Santorum is a disgrace to the human mind.

Update: Hahaha, there's an empty seat in the third row behind Chris Wallace. So it's not just candidates who don't want to attend.

Update: Three of the five candidates say they'd resume waterboarding. Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are the two that don't. Paul is really fun to listen to on foreign policy issues. He won't be as fun on domestic policy.

Update: Gary Johnson's economic plan: abolish the corporate income tax. "It will literally create tens of millions of jobs overnight," he says.

Update: Juan Williams wants to know if Tim Pawlenty supports any sort of job creation measure besides tax cuts. He points to the NLRB action with respect to Boeing, a big issue in South Carolina. Other than that, he doesn't have anything to say, but it played well with the local crowd.

Update: Herman Cain is an idiot. He believes we have enough fossil fuel inside the U.S. to fuel our economy without relying on any other country. I mean, that may be the stupidest thing said so far tonight.

Update: Pawlenty passes on a chance to take a direct shot at Romney on RomneyCare, saying he won't attack Romney because Romney isn't at the debate to defend himself. Oh, that's going to be a lot of fun when he's actually forced to defend it at a debate.

Update: And there's a commercial break. Is it just me or are these guys incredibly lame and boring? And didn't Pawlenty miss a chance to make headlines by nailing Romney? I'm not sure what his thinking is on not going after him. Seems sort of wimpy to me.

Update: Chris Wallace basically asks Rick Santorum why is a raving lunatic (conditioning a debt ceiling increase on repeal of health care reform, and turning Medicare into a voucher program immediately). Santorum, who voted for prescription drug coverage for Medicare, says blocking health care reform is the single most important item on the conservative agenda and that the fate of America depends on its repeal. In other words, he doesn't care that Chris Wallace thinks he's crazy.

Update: Ron Paul wants to go back on the gold standard.

Update: This format is really stupid. Each candidate is asked a different question, and there's no opportunity for the candidates to interact with each other. Maybe that'll change in the rest of the debate, but so far, there's no sign of it.

Update: As Barb just pointed out to me, that's probably the plan. (To avoid having the candidates interact with each other.) These guys are a bunch of jokes. Ron Paul is serious about his ideas, but he's not a serious candidate. Gary Johnson is somewhat like Paul in ideology, but is nowhere near as articulate or charismatic. Santorum and Cain are just jokes. And Tim Pawlenty doesn't really have anything to say.

Update: Gary Johnson, a former border state governor, takes a pro-immigration position immediately after Rick Santorum tells a story about how his grandma didn't speak English but that his dad wouldn't teach him Italian.

Update: Photo time.

Debate
Update: Pawlenty's big idea. Invade Libya! Kill Qaddafi! (Does he remember that it was George W. Bush, whose foreign policy he was praising earlier, that made peace with Qaddafi in 2008?)

Update: Rick Santorum thinks Obama is weak with respect to Pakistan. Apparently he hasn't been following the news. He says we need to tell Pakistan they are with us or against us. And then he brags about how much he supported Pakistan while in the senate. So I guess that means he supported a country that he thinks was trying to attack America? And he thinks that's worth bragging about?

Update: @MattOrtega: "Santorum looks like he's got a short fuse... while talking about nukes. #NotGood #Temperament"

Update: Another break. Yawn.

Update: New thread here.

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