Debate Live Blog: Romney vs. Perry

Tuesday night is the eighth Republican primary debate of the 2012 election cycle, and while many pundits agree that this time the debates have mattered a lot more this cycle, will they run out of things to say about them?

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Seven Republican candidates are in Las Vegas tonight for the eighth primary debate this year, and this one promises to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, we’re going to have fun watching the moderators try to pin down Herman Cain on which of the many interesting things he said were actually jokes. On the other hand, we’re going to miss out on the tweeting of Jon Huntsman’s daughters, because the candidate is skipping this debate. The Huntsman girls are always entertaining, like when they posted a photo of their mom with Anita Perry and Callista Gingrich and called it “First Wives Club.” (The First Wives Club was a movie about three ladies whose husbands dumped them for younger women. The Perrys and the Huntsmans are still married; poor Callista happens to be, for Marianne Gingrich, the younger woman.) Other things to watch for: Mitt Romney has been strong through all the debates, Perry has famously been less so. And Ron Paul is unafraid to goad the audience into booing him. We’ll be liveblogging the fun.

10:30p.m.: Highlights: Mitt Romney hates Rick Perry so much. Surely the feeling is mutual, but Romney shows it more. (CNN's John King tweets that on his way off stage, Perry said, "it went well tonight... A lot of fun.") Romney turned red and couldn't help reaching out and touching Perry. Which the crowd loved. The looks they exchanged were great. Liberals think Romney is the last sane man standing. Conservatives aren't giving Cain a pass on knowing little on foreign policy. Michele Bachmann railed against President Obama because he "put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa." (Libya is in Africa.) Newt Gingrich was forced to admit he supported an individual mandate that citizens buy health insurance in the 1990s.

But the most interesting moments where when the crowd roared in support of Romney. Romney has never been a fan favorite. He hasn't been able to grow his support in the polls above 25 percent even as other candidacies collapsed. But the reaction of the audience tonight shows that maybe it's not that Romney needed to apologize for his health care record, as some have suggested, but that he needed to look like he could strangle Perry Homer Simpson-style.

10:20p.m.: Slate's Dave Weigel tweets this "study in contrasts." The press scrum around Romney's spokesman compared to that around Bachmann's:
10:04p.m.: The scorecards are posted:
  • Republican strategist Mike Murphy: "Scorecard: Perry improves from awful to just bad, still looks dumb, and now, mean. Mitt wins again, but got bloodied. Cain has peaked."
  • The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza: "Debate report card: Obama narrowly wins with Huntsman a close second." Also: "Obama campaign can't be THAT happy tonight. The GOP's strongest general election candidate remains favorite to win nomination."
  • NBC News' Chuck Todd: "Perry was no shrinking violet tonight; he forced himself back front-n-center with Romney; Cain was the one fading from spotlight tonight."
  • The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan: "Santorum's best debate so far - scoring real points against Rick and Mitt, clear & consistent. Can't stand him. But fair's fair."
  • Republican strategist Alex Castellanos: "before this debate Perry faced doubts about his abilities. now he will also face doubts about his likeability. a lot not to like tonight."
  • Political Wire's Teagan Goddard: "The biggest story of the debate was the puncturing of the Herman Cain bubble ... Rick Perry knew he had probably just one more chance to prove his candidacy but he swung wildly at Romney and missed ... Newt Gingrich is playing a game of survival. He may well fill the vacuum when Cain finally fades as the leading Romney-alternative."
10:00p.m.: Bachmann begged for a chance to speak as Anderson Cooper tried to wind down the debate, saying the campaigns were demanding an end. Bachmann pledged Obama would be a one-term president, and making a case for her own conservatism, she quoted Reagan, saying, "No pastels. Bold colors." Gawker's Maureen O'Connor tweets, "Michele, you [wore] wrong the outfit for that quote."
9:55p.m.: Gingrich, never known for being a sweetheart in the 1990s, ends the night with a plea for friendship: "Maximizing bickering is not going to get us in the White House."
9:48p.m.: So much fighting between Perry and Romney tonight -- so many dirty looks and tight smiles:
9:45p.m.: Rewatch Santorum and Romney fight over health care here:
9:38p.m.: Cain gets another shot. He says he'd never agree to negotiating with terrorists. Grasping, he quotes Ronald Reagan, saying he believes in "peace through strength." In response, Paul brings up Iran-Contra! He says "we all know Reagan exchanged arms with Iran for hostages." A major taboo has been broken.
New York's Jonathan Chait tweets, "I love the 'could Reagan make a rock so big he couldn't lift it?' questions. Always flusters them."
9:36p.m.: Not a lot of conservative fans for Cain's response to a question about negotiating with terrorists in the wake of Israel's release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier, Gilad Shalit. Hot Air's Ed Morrissey: "Cain: We won't negotiate with terrorists. Unless we decide we do. But I won't. Until I do." The Weekly Standard's John McCormack: "Cain: we don't negotiate with terrorists. Except when we consider trading 1000 terrorists for 1 soldier." National Review's Rich Lowry: "all of cain's f-policy answers come dwn he wkd gather info, talk to experts, and then make the right decision--whatever that is."
9:29p.m.: Gingrich: "I'm a hawk but I'm a cheap hawk." You go to war with the Army you have? But he goes on to attack the debt supercommittee for defense cuts. NBC News' Chuck Todd says, "Didn't Newt weirdly disqualify himself by claiming members of Congress don't know what they are doing re: defense."
9:27p.m.: Bachmann on defense spending: "The president put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa." Libya is in Africa. But her point about that we're now in "a fourth conflict in a foreign land" still holds.
9:22p.m.: Perry stumbles to answer whether he'll repudiate Jeffress. Here are some fragments: "I can no more remove my faith than I can that I'm the son of a tennant farmer. ... I said I didn't agree with that individual's statement ... the Founding Fathers understood freedom of religion ... values so important as we go forward ... the idea that we shouldn't have our freedom... of religion taken away by any.... means." He closes by saying he's lost his faith in Obama.
"Mormon question is grand slam home run for Romney. Impossible to attack him on it," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza tweets.
9:21p.m.: Anderson Cooper asks Santorum, the candidate most identified with social conservatism, if it's okay that Perry-backer the Rev. Robert Jeffress called Romney's religion a cult. Should voters pay attention to a candidate's religion? "I think they should pay attention to the candidate's values, what they stand for." Gingrich says "none of use should rush to judge others in their relationship with God." Early in his campaign, Gingrich said he believed in a forgiving God, and that he hopes voters can be forgiving, too.
9:19p.m.: NBC News' Carrie Dann notes that unlike in the last debate, Perry looks peppy, not half-asleep. But he's still tripping over his words, saying things like, "1.2 million jobs could be put to work!"
9:10p.m.: We get to the Occupy Wall Street questions. Whatever you think of the activists, it's quite an accomplishment to become a segment of a presidential debate just a few weeks into their protest.
9:09p.m.: "So is the whole Cain thing over now?" The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza asks.
9:05p.m.: Cain makes a strange orca-like sound of protest when Santorum says he supported TARP. The other two targets of Santorum's anti-TARP charge are Perry and Romney. Perry struggles to explain a letter he wrote to Congress urging lawmakers to take action in 2008, after markets crashed when they failed to pass TARP on the first pass. Cain gets a second change, saying, "I supported the concept of TARP, but when this administration used its discretion to do a whole bunch of things the public didn't like, then I was against it." Honest or too honest?
9:04p.m.: Perry has a problem with losing his train of thought mid-sentence. 
9:03p.m.: Romney says he agrees with Paul that the other 49 states can't force Nevada to take all their nuclear waste. The Vegas audience loves this. In pro-wrestling this is called a "cheap pop."
8:58p.m.: The Atlantic's Chris Orr tweets, "What in the world is Bachmann wearing? I expect her to break into 'Good Ship Lollipop' any second." Two thoughts: 1) Bachmann looks nice in white, but 2) Her jacket does have a bit of a Sea Org vibe.
Meanwhile, Cain is boldly going double-breasted. Texans Perry and Paul are wearing matching shirt/tie combos. Paul's suit jacket has been ill-fitting in each debate.
8:53p.m.: Romney is reveling in the audience booing Perry for attacking him for hiring a company that hired illegal immigrants. The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta tweets, "Romney: Everyone on stage 'loves legal immigration.' Again with the reaching out to normal people," echoing a theme of the night.
8:48p.m.: Anderson Cooper is tough in asking Cain about his flip-flopping on whether he wants to electrocute illegal immigrants with some kind of cattle fence along the border with Mexico.
8:45p.m.: Romney gets more woos and cheers when he scoffs at Perry interrupting him, saying, "You have a problem with other people speaking! And I suggest if you want to be president of the United States, you gotta let both people speak." The crowd loves that. Maybe Republican voters' big problem with Romney is not Obamacare but that he hasn't been feisty. 
8:40p.m.: Romney gets so mad when Perry accuses him of hiring illegal immigrants his face gets bright red while he unconvincingly fake laughs. Then, physical contact!
Romney: "This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick." Zing! That gets applause and woos. The crowd likes that. It's like when pro-wrestlers talk smack before they start fighting.
8:35p.m.: Romney has mostly avoided getting beaten up in the debates over his health care overhaul in Massachusetts. But not tonight. Santorum says he can't be trusted to get rid of Obamacare. Gingrich joins in, and Romney says, "we got the idea for the individual mandate from you!" Gingrich, shocked and offended, accuses Romney of lying, but Romney demands "Did you or did you not" support the individual mandate plan put forward by the Heritage Foundation? Gingrich admits: Yes. This is a point made by tons of pro-Obamacare pundits while the law was being debated in 2009 and 2010. Odd to see it in a Republican debate.
8:28p.m.: Liberals are giving a bit of praise to Romney's first chance to talk out loud, after the other candidates picked at each other for 15 minutes. The Atlantic's James Fallows tweets, "No getting around this: like Romney or not (I don't), he comes across as the only sane figure." New York's Jonathan Chait says, "Romney, while talking to Cain, thinking to self, 'I can't believe I'm in this party.'" Gawker's Jim Newell writes, "Romney is such a slimy manipulative creep (presidential material)."
8:22p.m.: Romney goes after Cain too, after being gentle in the last debate. Cain objects to the argument that people in some states would have to pay very high sales tax when the state tax and Cain's proposed federal tax are combined. "That's apples and oranges," Cain says. "Yeah, and I've got a basket with both apples and oranges in it," Romney shoots back, saying people will have to pay both taxes.
And Gingrich, somewhat condescendingly, says, Well, at least Cain got us talking about something different!
8:19p.m.: Ron Paul: What to replace the income tax with? "I say nothing!" Cheers. Like when Bachmann said she wanted workers to keep 100 percent of their money, these candidates sometimes play to the crowd like Oprah when she's giving away free stuff. Except it's unlikely Paul can deliver on abolishing the income tax.
8:17p.m.: And Rick Perry blatantly steals Santorum's attack line on Cain's 9-9-9 plan from the last debate! In New Hampshire, Santorum addressed the crowd, asking the sales tax-free citizens of the Granite State to raise their hands if they wanted a sales tax. No one did. Tonight, Perry notes that no one in New Hampshire would want a sales tax. If you can't beat 'em, steal from 'em?
8:14p.m.: Santorum is able to attack Cain on his weakest issue -- what would really happen if the 9-9-9 tax plan were implemented -- by highlighting his signature issue: family values. Cain's plan wouldn't give tax breaks to families, Santorum says, just like in Europe, where birth rates are low.
8:08p.m.: The candidates stand, hands over hearts, for the national anthem. The Tea Party debate last month was the first to feature that ceremony; now it looks like they all will. It's like the American flag lapel pin -- once everyone started doing it, no one wants to be the first to stop.
8:01p.m.: Excluded presidential candidate Buddy Roemer sounds a little bitter. "Debate acronym guide: 'LOC' (Load of crap); 'IVT' (Irrelevant); 'DYMT' (Did you memorize that?); 'ATQ' (Answer the question); 'ZZZ' (Boring)," he tweets.
7:51p.m.: Meanwhile, across the country, Jon Huntsman is giving a townhall in New Hampshire. When he said, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," he got a lot of applause, National Journal's Lindsey Boerma reports. But clearly every the time in all of Vegas history this slogan has been uttered by the famous and anonymous alike, it has been wishful thinking, right? 
7:45p.m.: The scene: An anti-HPV vaccine demonstration is happening outside the debate hall, Politico's Ben Smith reports. And that debate hall? It's a casinoNational Review'Robert Costa says CNN’s icy blue set looks like Krypton. And Herman Cain is feeling confident, telling CNN’s Steve Brusk, "debates are my friend."
7:25p.m. Everyone is wondering whether Cain will prove he's the real deal tonight. One thing that will likely come up is that Cain said he wanted to build an electric fence along the border with Mexico that would zap to death would-be illegal immigrants. He later said that was a joke. Let’s look at three kinds of Cain jokes.
  • Cain knows it's a joke, and we know it's a joke. Example: On the question of whether he's the flavor of the month, Cain likes to say, "Haagen-Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time."
  • Cain says it, everyone freaks out, and Cain claims it was a joke. Example: That electric fence. "America needs to get a sense of humor," Cain explained.

6:37 p.m. Tuesday night is the eighth Republican primary debate of the 2012 election cycle, and while many pundits agree that this time the debates have mattered a lot more, they're running out of unique things to say about them. (Perry, Cain, Bachmann, and Romney have all taken turns in the "hot seat.") In fact, it's getting just a teeny bit predictable. The New York Times's Michael Shear is already guessing what the candidates post-debate spin will be. But can you guess what each pundit will say about the candidates? Take our quiz. We'll be back to liveblog the candidates' quips -- and the insta-punditry -- before the debate begins 8p.m. eastern time. 

  1. Will The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza call the debate the last stand for: 
    a) Rick Perry
    b) Michele Bachmann
  2. Will Cillizza say:
    a) Herman Cain "proved... he could hold his own as the centerpiece of a debate -- generally handling the questions thrown his way and turning each and every one of them back to his “9/9/9” tax reform plan and outsider credentials" 
    b) that "the attacks against Cain were scattershot and largely launched by second or third tier candidates."
  3. Will ABC News' Michael Falcone say Rick Perry: 
    a) "was mostly able to withstand the broadsides from his fellow Republicans ... Many of the Texas governor’s answers drew applause from the audience." 
    b)"If the GOP primary contest is defined debate by debate he cannot win. Period."
  4. Will RedState's Erick Erickson say:
    a) "Herman Cain proved himself a bit of an unstable number two. He is starting to get the tough questions on his 999 plan and his responses sound like they were crafted in the land of unicorns and rainbows"?
    b) "The winner is Herman Cain. The audience loved him. Other than his question on Israel, Cain’s answers really were out of the park awesome"
  5. Will The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky write: 
    a) "The conventional wisdom is dumping hard on Rick Perry ... This tells me now is exactly the time to buy Perry stock?"
    b) Perry "choked badly on an early big moment when Charlie Rose asked him what his plan was. He stumbled his way into some boilerplate about energy, but he spoke unconfidently and was looking at Charlie as a child looks at his teacher while trying to remember that middle string of the alphabet. I still count Perry in, though. This has to come down to Romney vs. X, and I still don’t think X will be Cain. But Perry is a pretty lowercase X just now."
  6. Will Republican strategist Mark McKinnon write in The Daily Beast that: 
    a) "Perry went a long way toward reassuring viewers and voters that he has no intention of changing [Social Security] in any way for current or even near retirees.  ... I don’t think Perry put the issue to bed, but he sent it upstairs to get into PJs."
    b) "Perry can recover, but he has wasted some huge opportunities, making it a lot harder on himself and his campaign than it should have been. He’s raised a lot of concern among Republicans about whether he is up to the job."
  7. Will McKinnon say of Jon Huntsman:
    a) "This is a political environment ripe for a moderate with centrist appeal. Which is why it was refreshing to see former Utah governor Jon Huntsman unload on rivals for appealing to the fringes"
    b) he is "battling to prove [he's] still relevant"?
  8. Will Karl Rove say the race is:
    a) between Perry and Romney
    b) Cain needs to take advantage of his rise in the polls?
  9. Will New York's Jonathan Chait say: 
    a) "The big question of tonight's Republican presidential debate was whether Rick Perry ... would survive. I think he did. He is a bad debater, but given the history of figures like George W. Bush, I see no evidence that Republican voters want a good debater."
    b) "We may be approaching a danger zone for Perry where the Party Establishment panics about his suitability and throws itself openly behind Romney. I thought Perry had a nearly unbeatable position last month, but he’s playing it pretty badly, and Romney is playing his position extremely well."

There's still time to leave your answers in comments. And like the pundits, you can't guess c) none of the above.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.