It's the very last Republican primary debate, and this time, and if you read all the solicited and unsolicited advice to the candidates, the message is: be as aggro as possible. Newt Gingrich's advisers blame his loss in Florida on his daughters' advice to be more "presidential" (nice), The New York Times reports, so he's going to be on the attack. And this is Rick Santorum's last chance to prove he's the "alpha male," according to Brett O'Donnell, former debate coach for Liberty University and Michele Bachmann, told National Journal. We can only hope! We'll be liveblogging the 8p.m. CNN debate starting time now. Be sure to add your thoughts in the comments!
10:00p.m.: After all these debates, it's hard to do much more than wait for the candidates to flub their very well-practiced lines. Santorum spent a lot of time defending his congressional record -- and he "blew it," the Washington Times' Charles Spiering writes. That's because he confessed to voting against something he believed in because it was a big priority of George W. Bush's. "It was the principal priority of President Bush," Santorum said. "I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in. But, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team for the leader, and I made a mistake." He also got booed when trying to explain earmarks.
Gingrich tried attacking Obama and the media, but didn't get much airtime. Paul forcefully defended his foreign policy ideas. Romney didn't burn a $100 bill on stage, so he wins, again, "by default."
Ignoring the talking points we've heard a million times, the only new clues to who these guys really are was in their eyebrows. Santorum was annoyed and exasperated when his record as a senator was attacked. Gingrich looked angry when he got his first questions, and then deliriously happy when Paul made fun of him. Paul looked contemptuous of Gingrich's talk about war with Iran. Romney was the same as he always was: suffering through with tight smiles.
9:47p.m.: When Newt laughs, he looks like one of those old-fashioned pictures of the Moon laughing in a scary-jolly way. Paul said of Gingrich's education comments, "Newt's going in the right direction, but not far enough!" It's not even that funny, at least to us. But Gingrich thinks it's hilarious.
9:41p.m.: More than an hour and a half into the debate, we get the first woman questioner. She asks about No Child Left Behind. The audience boos as Santorum tries to defend his vote for it. "Santorum should take a page from Romney: Don't apologize, just say you will repeal the thing you previously supported," The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweets.
9:40p.m.: NBC News' Chuck Todd notes that none of the candidates came out for military action in Syria.
9:35p.m.: Paul says that if we're going to war with Iran, the least we could do is declare it. "This is war and people are going to die."
9:28p.m.: Paul looks deeply unhappy when Gingrich says he would support Israel if it decided to strike Iran.
9:25p.m.: When asked about women in combat, Romney hints he might support it. Gingrich and Paul use the question to turn to their pet issues (total war, too many interventions).
9:20p.m.: The candidates give the one word that describes them:
- Paul: Consistent
- Santorum: Courage
- Romney: Resolute
- Gingrich: Cheerful
Newt wins for giving an unexpected answer. Not for accuracy.
9:14p.m.: Pre-commercial break teaser: the candidates will be asked "what word, and one would only" would describe them. Some Atlantic Wire bloggers played a version of this very game this weekend: Celebrity. You say one word to describe your celeb, but you also get to use hand gestures. Ron Paul was communicated by a stooped posture, a fist shaking at the ceiling, and "Fed."
8:59p.m.: Rick Santorum is getting all riled up! He's just barely holding onto his fake smiles:
8:58p.m.: "The morning after pill is nothing more than a birth control pill," Ron Paul, breaking new territory in the Republican debates. ABC News' Amy Walter tweets, " still waiting for "transvaginal" to makes its debate debut."
8:54p.m.: "What channel is the debate on? I'm on a channel showing a debate from 50 yrs ago when candidates are asked if they believe in birth control," Katie Halper tweets.
8:50p.m.: Santorum says he's bringing up birth control because "children are having children." But if the children were using birth control, they wouldn't be having children, right?
"Just because I'm talking about it doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it," Santorum says.
8:48p.m.: In an unexpected turn of events, the audience cheers the Supreme Court.
8:47p.m.: Newt brings all the candidates together after this divisive debate over birth control by railing against President Obama for voting for "infanticide."
8:46p.m.: Back from commercial break. Atlantic Wire bloggers were discussing whether the first question would be about birth control or Satan. Looks like it's birth control. The audience boos.
8:35p.m.: Santorum seems a little frazzled with everyone attacking him. Rick Santorum makes the case for earmarks. "Congress has a role of allocating resources," and so on, he goes on for a while, and when it's Romney's turn to respond, he says, "I didn't follow all of that but I can tell you this: I would put a ban on earmarks." Burn! Santorum says Romney asked for money when he was running the 2002 Olympics. Romney responds that the government usually pays for security. Then he drops this clearly reversed line: "While i was fighting to save the Olympics you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere." Everybody loves the Olympics. No one loves bridges to nowhere.
8:32p.m.: Gingrich says he saved an Olympics too -- the 1996 Olympics. That's right, Newt saved an Olympics before Mitt saved an Olympics. Booya.
8:27p.m.: His campaign decided to "Let Newt be Newt," the New York Times reported, and Newt being Newt tonight means looking surly.
8:17p.m.: Ron Paul, why does your new ad say Sen. Santorum is a fake conservative? "Because he's a fake." Paul thinks his joke is pretty good.
Santorum pretends he does too:
Then insists he's a real boy:
8:14p.m.: The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield points out in the comments that Romney's already used that George Costanza line before. We'll give Romney this: that was a very well executed imitation of authentic off-the-cuff hilarity.
8:11p.m.: This seating arrangement makes the candidates look silly.
8:08p.m.: Wow, a Seinfeld reference from Romney! Quoting George Costanza: "When they're applauding, stop."
8:06p.m.: No ash on Santorum's forehead.
8:05p.m.: Only Ron Paul opts for a traditional tie. Newt goes for a shiny deep purple, Santorum periwinkle, Romney a pale blue stripe. Update: Paul's tie is not traditional. It has nifty little baubles on it.
8:02p.m.: It begins! CNN cannot open a debate without a long, ridiculous movie-trailer-style intro:
7:53p.m.: James Carville is wearing Mardi Gras beads on CNN.
7:46p.m.: Very important prep work: Romney " just went on stage, checked that his chair was sturdy (shook it), asked about sigh line with CNN's John King," CNN's Lisa Desjardins reports.
7:39p.m.: Rick Santorum has a gift for colorful metaphors that doesn't usually come through in debates. For example, BuzzFeed just posted this 2010 speech in which Santorum compares Democrats and their entitlements to "a guy with a dime bag suing once I hook you, once I numb you… We gotcha. We'll hook you." Who knew Rick Santorum knew what a dime bag was?