Update: The friendly presidential debate between Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich was so friendly -- and therefore free of sparks -- that a reporter was "visibly" asleep in the first 20 minutes, Politico's Ben Smith noticed, and Huntsman himself said he caught his own daughter snoozing about an hour in. But despite the tone, Gingrich managed to throw a few of his signature bombs.
While the rival Republican candidates pretended to be best pals, they directed their attacks at President Obama. "It’s hard for me to argue that we’re any safer than we were 10 years ago," Gingrich said, because Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons. For his part, Huntsman lamented that "We missed a huge opportunity with the Arab Spring." He said Iran poses a "transcendent threat," and if Iran gets nukes, "all options are on the table, and do believe we're going to have a conversation with Israel."
Gingrich couldn't go without offering some of his trademark guaranteed-to-be-controversial remarks. As Slate's Dave Weigel notes, Gingrich has an unlikely applause line, "I'm a hawk but I'm a cheap hawk." Aren't cheap hawks why soldiers had to up-armor their own Humvees with scrap metal in the first years of the Iraq war? Gingrich warned that an Iranian attack on Israel would mean "virtually the end of Judaism on the planet." He fretted that NASA wasn't building space vehicles; instead, its scientists just "sit around and think of space."
On China, Gingrich deferred to Huntsman, our ambassador in Beijing until this spring. Huntsman showed off his Chinese, and showed off his cultural knowledge: "China is greatest long-term strategic thinker in the world, and we are the greatest short-term tactical thinkers in the world." China and the U.S. need to put their heads together and "mesh." Despite getting the most attention during this campaign when he's tweeted jokes at the other candidates' expense, Huntsman showed admiration for Gingrich, whom he called "a great historian." But at the vey end, he let a little signature contempt show through. Gingrich, in his closing remarks, said this style of debate -- no rapid-fire questions -- was more substantive and sophisticated, and suited to the gravity of the times. "This is not a Hollywood game. This is not a reality show." Moments later, Huntsman made a reference to a reality show that Gingrich had signed up for: "I can't wait to compare and contrast this format with the Donald Trump debate."
Original post: Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman face off on foreign policy in a modified Lincoln-Douglas-style debate at 4 p.m. eastern time Monday. Gingrich had a similar debate with Herman Cain in Texas in November. That debate's tone was friendly, but Cain's total deference to Gingrich on entitlements hurt Cain made him look less than knowledgable.
Watch Huntsman vs. Gingrich here: