Newt Gingrich has a chance to insult Mitt Romney to his face tonight, when the last four Republican candidates debate in Jacksonville, Florida on CNN. Much to Gingrich's benefit -- and to the delight of those who've watched all 18 previous debates, including the boring ones -- the crowd will be allowed to clap and cheer this time. Gingrich got a standing ovation in a debate two weeks ago, which is credited with giving him his victory in the South Carolina primary. With his momentum in polls stalling out, he can only hope for some Rocky Horror-level audience participation tonight. The debate starts at 8 p.m. eastern time, and we'll start liveblogging around 7p.m.
10:55p.m.: Highlights: Romney and Gingrich fought over space exploration, and who you think won that exchange depends on whether you're on Team Stingy Old Man or Team 9-Year-Old Boy. Santorum pointed out that Romney and Obama will make the same argument for the individual mandates in their health care plans, and Romney responded by saying, "It's not worth getting angry about." Ron Paul knows he's not going to win, and he seems to be concentrating on solidifying his position as a cult classic. Wolf Blitzer was able to fact-check Romney mid-debate. We defended Callista's hair. And Romney thrilled the crowd by saying he and Gingrich should be able to disagree on immigration without "labeling people with highly-charged epithets." Gingrich had called him "anti-immigrant," and conservatives hate being called bigots. Gingrich's only comeback was that he wanted to Save the Grannies from deportation.
Finally, this photo from Reuters shows the real human pain caused by the tradition of pretending this is all in good fun:
10:48p.m.: We say: Having a rowdy crowd is awesome. If you're going to play to the mob, you should have to suffer through its cheers and boos. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are two men who are not used to having people talk back to them. But Romney has adapted in the last few debates, while Gingrich is so confident in his debate skills that he has not.
10:38p.m.: What people are saying:
- "The moon wins the debate, followed by Puerto Rico, Barack Obama, and then one of the Republicans." -- Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler.
- "Grades (strategy/execution): Romney (A/A); Santorum (A-/A); Paul (B-/C); Gingrich (D-/B)" -- The New York Times' Nate Silver.
- "My Jacksonville debate grades: Romney A, Santorum B-, Gingrich C-, Paul C-." -- Time's Mark Halperin.
- "Final score: Romney beats Gingrich soundly, Santorum well-positioned for they-both-suck alternative. Moon colony loses." -- The Atlantic's Chris Orr.
- "So I guess when you have enough of these #Newt was bound to lose one." -- Politico's David Cantanese.
- "It was a superb performance by Romney. Gingrich was terrible. That said, every moment Romney spends talking about blind trusts and his taxes is a win for Democrats." -- Teagan Goddard.
- "Mitt Romney likes being able to fire people. Like his previous debate coach." -- Andrew Kaczynski.
- "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." -- The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan.
10:15p.m.: At this point, we would like to blatantly steal from Vanity Fair, presenting their "In Character" feature, though against the subjects' will. Romney has greater range than you expect, but, of course, he's out-emoted. Feel free to write your own captions.
9:45p.m.: This woman asks how the candidates' religious beliefs will affect their decisions. In other words, Romney, please talk about being Mormon.
Instead, Romney emphasizes his opposition to abortion, saying the founders said the creators "endowed us with life [pause] liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
9:44p.m.: BuzzFeed posts Santorum's attack on Romney's health care plan:
9:40p.m.: Last fall, Gingrich called the Palestinians "an invented people." A guy who says he's a Palestinian-American and a Republican asks a question, saying, "We do exist."
9:37p.m.: Romney made a real joke! "If I'm president ill use every resource we have -- short of invasion, Congressman Paul -- ill use every resource we have" to isolate the Castro regime in Cuba. We all know how much Congressman Paul hates invasions.
9:30p.m.: Blitzer asks the candidates: Why would your wife be a great first lady? Who cares about the candidates answers, we have our own:
Carol Paul: like her husband, completely adorable, but in a different way. She'd make an idea Grandma in Chief:
Ann Romney: She can teach her husband how to smile for real even when you know a million people are looking at you:
Callista Gingrich: At this moment, so many months into the campaign, we can no longer conclude that Callista is clueless that people make fun of her hair. That gravity-defying swoop has been written about everywhere, voters often ask her about it in campaign appearances. But despite pressure from the press -- and undoubtedly pressure from campaign staff -- Callista refuses to change her hair. It can now only be seen as an act of defiance.
9:18p.m.: Clearly, Paul disagrees with Romney about whether health care is an issue worth getting mad about.
9:13p.m.: Romney responds to Santorum's extensive attacks on his health care record by saying, "It's not worth getting angry about." It's true, Santorum seems like the angriest bro at the party. But the issue? A lot of conservative voters think it definitely is something worth getting angry about.
9:11p.m.: In talking about how his plan was created, Romney says "we came together with the citizens of the nation," Romney says, meaning the citizens of the state of Massachusetts. Santorum says, accurately , that Romney is arguing the individual mandate worked well in Massachusetts. "We can't give this issue away in this election," Santorum says.
Romney responds that he's not for "top-down medicine." But then he makes the case for a mandate -- because people without insurance, when they get sick, cost the rest of us money, because we're not going to just let them die. Obama will make this argument, too.
9:06p.m.: As Santorum attacks Romney for creating Romneycare, Romney maintains his signature tight smile. Why can't he loosen up? Why does he think we need to think he's getting some mild enjoyment from being attacked? What's wrong with being mad sometimes?
8:57p.m.: Gingrich makes the case for Moon exploration because when John F. Kennedy called for going to the Moon, the result was thousands of young people going into science.
8:51p.m.: A new Ron Paul fun fact! He's a biker. When he's asked about his health, he challenges "anyone on this stage to a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas!" This would be a fun bike trip to go on.
Further, he warns Blitzer, "there are laws against age discriminations so if you push too much..."
This is irony, right? Because he once said the Civil Rights Act limited liberty.
8:48p.m.: Paul says he understands the Occupy Wall Streeters -- "those who talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent." He says the middle class is becoming poorer because we're off the gold standard, so money is transferred to the rich. Romney does not appear to follow:
8:42p.m.: Gingrich tries to steal Santorum's why-can't-we-be-friends line, delivering it much better than Santorum did. Let's be nice from now on, Gingrich says.
Romney sarcastically accuses him of being chicken, of "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't say things somewhere else if they didn't want to defend them here? Okay, fine, Gingrich says, I don't know of any American president who had a Swiss bank account. If you want to explain that, go head. Romney responds: "Okay, I will. I have a trustee." He says that word like "booya."
8:35p.m.: Then Newt and Mitt fight over who has more financial ties to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Gingrich says it's like comparing a tiny mouse to an elephant. Romney says his finances were in a blind trust.
Santorum plays the "can't we all just get along?" card. Gingrich, he says, spent years in Congress and then "used that expertise to advise companies, and that's not the worst thing in the world." And Romney "is a wealthy guy because he worked hard." Can't we put aside this petty personal bickering? he says. The crowd roars. We are not with the crowd on this one.
8:28p.m.: When Gingrich accused Romney of taking his words out of context and falsely accusing him of calling Spanish "the language of the ghetto," Romney said he hadn't seen the ad. But at the end, he says he approves of the message -- in Spanish! Wolf Blitzer gives Romney this news:
And Gingrich gives a little nod, like a little kid: See?!
8:20p.m.: Is Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate? "Of the four of us, yes," Gingrich. "The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive," Romney responds, noting that his father was born in Mexico -- an argument that he rejected only yesterday! When Romney says people should be able to disagree without using epithets, he gets huge cheers.
"Our problem isn't 11 million grandmas!" Romney says, to more cheers.
8:13p.m.: Gingrich again says that grandmas and grandpas won't self-deport, to use Romney's coinage. Romney rejects the argument that we should have compassion for people who raised families here. We should have compassion for those people waiting patiently back home to be let in.
Ron Paul suggest we end the war in Afghanistan and use that money to better manage the border.
8:11p.m.: What is Gingrich thinking of with this little smile?
8:08p.m.: Rick Santorum laughs at his own joke:
This is 93-year-old mom:
8:00p.m.: Gingrich promised to bring back Angry Newt tonight.
7:47p.m.: "A CNN producer is currently giving the #FLDebate crowd instructions. Silence cell phones, commence rowdy catcalls," Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein tweets. Oh goody. (We mean this sincerely.)
7:46p.m.: After conservative bloggers railed at top conservative officials' attempted take down of Gingrich, a genuine bona fide anti-media-elite elite is standing up for Newt: Sarah Palin. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein reports that in an interview to air on Fox at 10p.m., Palin says:
"…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. It’s not just Ron Paul. I believe it is also Newt Gingrich that the establishment, that the liberal media, certainly that the progressives and Democrats don’t like."
7:40p.m.: Shocking headline from the New York Times: "Conservatives Criticize Drudge for Anti-Gingrich Assault." Drudge? The Matt Drudge? It can't be! But there they are, conservative tweeters comparing the right-wing media icon to MSNBC and wondering if the attacks on Gingrich are coordinated. Today the Drudge Report ran the headline:“INSIDER: GINGRICH REPEATEDLY INSULTED REAGAN.” But as Michael D. Shear points out, "the complete video makes clear that Mr. Gingrich was not criticizing Mr. Reagan’s record, but was rather suggesting that Mr. Bush -- like any politician -- should look to the future, not the past." One conservative blog fumed, "The Drudge Distort."
7:25p.m.: Some argue that today's revelation that there were some "minor discrepancies" between Romney's tax returns and his federal financial disclosure funds is too confusing for the public to understand. But "undisclosed millions" mixed with "Swiss bank account" seems pretty easy to grasp, if you have ever watched a supervillan plot things on a Saturday morning cartoon..
7:15p.m.: Bob Dole's please-God-don't-nominate-Newt letter was a big deal on local news broadcasts in Miami tonight, the Los Angeles Times' Maeve Reston tweets. "Big bold quotes stripped across the bottom of screen."