GOP Debate to Lead the Free World

The Republican presidential primary debates have shaped the race a lot this year, but mostly in one way: making candidates not named Mitt Romney look bad. Tonight they take on foreign policy.

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The Republican presidential primary debates have shaped the race a lot this year, but mostly in one way: making candidates not named Mitt Romney look bad. Herman Cain and the other two ex-frontrunners -- Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry -- will try to get voters to love them again, while the three remaining not-Romneys -- Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul -- will ask to have their turn. But the topic of tonight's debate -- foreign policy -- might make that tricky. The subject has made Cain look bad several times already, but he's only the guy who's had the hardest time with it. We'll be liveblogging the debate, which starts at 8p.m. on CNN, right here.


10:30p.m.: Debate highlights: Romney forgets his name. Cain forgets Wolf Blitzer's. Paul makes amazing faces. Gingrich braves his base by saying illegal immigrants who've lived here for decades shouldn't be sent back to the countries they came from, because breaking up families is inhumane.
10:13p.m.: Several reporters and consultants are pointing to the key moment in the debate being when Gingrich said he was prepared to face the criticism from within his party when he called for immigration laws to be implemented humanely. The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan says Gingrich won the debate. Drudge saw it differently:
9:58p.m.: George W. Bush was never asked about al Qaeda in 2000. Who do the candidates think is the threat they should be talking about but aren't?
  • Santorum says creeping socialism around the world.
  • Paul says it's our own foreign occupations.
  • Perry says China -- "communist China." Noting how Ronald Reagan predicted the end of the Soviet Union, Perry says, "I happen to thnk that communist China is destined for the ash heap of history."
  • Romney says the issue not getting enough attention is Latin America, where Hezbollah is working.
  • Cain notes his computer engineering past (a reminder he is smart!) and says the danger is cyberattacks.
  • Gingrich says an electromagnetic pulse attack, which is the coolest sci-fi prediction so far.
  • Bachmann says we "won the peace in Iraq" and now Obama is giving that peace away. Plus the Islamist Somali group al Shabaab is recruiting in Minnesota. 
  • Huntsman closes: "Our biggest problem is right here at home... it's called joblessness." Look who's on message! Right? Wait, but isn't Huntsman supposed to advertise his foreign policy experience because he lived in China?
9:52p.m.: Because the debate is co-hosted by two conservative think tanks, a lot of Bush-era people are popping up as questioners. Lots of people are enjoying this reunion of folks like David Addingon (former chief of staff to Dick Cheney), and Paul WOlfowitz (former deputy defense secretary). The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza jokingly predicts Scooter Libby will get a question, while National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru jokingly says the last question will come from Ahmed Chalabi.
9:45p.m.: What is Gingrich doing on immigration? By saying he wouldn't send every illegal immigrant back where he or she came from -- which would break up families -- he's going to make a lot of Republican voters really mad, just as Perry did. The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates says he's playing for the general election. National Journal's Marc Ambinder says it gives Romney an opening. National Review's Rich Lowry says "gingrich defending the perry position 100 times better than perry ever did."
9:38p.m.: So Romney and Bachmann support making it easier for educated immigrants to come to America, while Gingrich and Perry want to make it easier for all immigrants.
9:35p.m.: Gingrich says we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay if they have roots here -- like a church. He mentions the church thing twice.
9:34p.m.: Bachmann supports making it easier for specialized foreign workers -- like chenists, engineers -- to get visas so they can work here. But she doesn't support allowing 11 million illegal immigrants to get "amnesty." Middle-class immigrants are okay, poor immigrants are not.
9:30p.m.: As he said he'd do earlier, Santorum is trying to sound kinder and gentler and not so angry.
9:28p.m.: Ron Paul gets cheers when he calls for an end to the Drug War. "You can at least let sick people have marijuana," then notes that alcohol is a much more dangerous drug. This is the closest a Republican debate has ever come to sounding like a dorm room debate.
9:26p.m.: Perry sounds like he's trying so hard not to mess up. He gets a chance to address one of his biggest weaknesses: immigration. Saying Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are working in Mexico, he says within 12 months, the border with Mexico will be secure. He doesn't say whether he's changed his mind that it'd be impossible a fence along the enormous border.
9:17p.m.: Earlier in the debate, Daniel Drezner, who writes for Foreign Policy, tweeted, "God help me, but at this point in the debate, Bachmann has done the best job." National Review's Robert Costa notes that she's improved on the issue, and says House SpeakerJohn Boehner's decision to help her get a seat on the House intelligence committee has "changed the reace."
9:07p.m.: Huntsman says it was hard sitting in Beijing as the Chinese got mining rights in Afghanistan. He says his "foreign policy will be determined by economics," without getting into specifics of how he'd deal with Pentagon budget cuts. Perry responds saying Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta should "resign in protest" over the cuts.
9:00p.m.: One of Cain's favorite phrases is "it depends." Would he support an Israeli strike on Iran? "It depends..." Republican consultant Mike Murphy tweets, "About every Cain answer is about process of decision making. A dodge..."
8:58p.m.: Republican strategist Alex Castellanos says all the candidates sound serious, except Perry and Cain.
8:53p.m.: In another life, Ron Paul would have made a great character actor. He's so expressive, he could easily be in Vanity Fair's "In Character" feature.
8:47p.m.: With Romney saying he'd listen to the generals on the ground about Afghanistan, Huntsman pulls the Vietnam card! Reason's Mike Riggs jokes, "Jon Huntsman hates the military. Why else would he say that we should not let generals on the ground run our civilian government?"
8:41p.m.: Gingrich finally gets to speak. But first he has to criticize the questions and the debate rules. He seems just a tiny bit condescending. Maybe this is why the demographics of his supporters "skews way old."
8:39p.m.: Gingrich looks very frustrated he's being ignored!
8:34p.m.: Bachmann and Perry have a real debate on Pakistan. He says he wouldn't write blank checks to the country -- and that he wouldn't disengage from the area, just engage economically -- and she says the aid isn't a blank check. It buys intel.
8:31p.m.: Romney's name gaffe is already on YouTube:
8:27p.m.: Does Cain support religious profling of Muslims? "I support targeted profiling." Doesn't really explain the difference, but says calling it "profiling" is "oversimplification. Paul audibly scoffs. Cain then calls Blitzer "Blitz."
8:24p.m.: Santorum says he supports religious profiling of Muslims on airplane. And young men, he adds.
8:23p.m.: Herman Cain is again wearing his signature gold tie. And Bachmann is wearing her signature white:
8:19p.m.: Ron Paul, as expected, disagrees with Gingrich, saying he opposes the Patriot Act. ("This is like saying we need a policeman in every house ... because we want to prevent child and wife beating .. Yes you might prevent a crime, but the crime is against the American people. ") Bachmann says, as she has before, that we've handed over terrorist interrogation responsibility to the ACLU. (National Journal's Marc Ambinder: "I'm sure the ACLU would love to have the power w/in the admin that Michelle Bachmann thinks it has.") Huntsman splits the difference: "We forget sometimes that we have a namebrand in this world."
8:14p.m.: CNN's Wolf Blitzer opened the debate by introducing himself and saying that yes, that is his real first name. In Mitt Romney's introductory remarks, he joked, "My name's Mitt Romney, and that's my real name too." But it isn't! As the Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes notes, his first name is Willard.
8:12p.m.: More than 10 minutes in and no questions yet. The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny tweets, "How does CNN stretch a 90-minute debate into a two-hour television show? Like this."
8:05p.m.: CNN promises foreign policy is cool. It's like a video game!
7:58p.m.: Hilarious: Politico's Mike Allen tweets: "Floor director at #CNNDebate has audience practice applause in and out of 3 commercial breaks: 'You will be seen around the world in HD.'" Is that a subtle warning against inappropriate booing?
7:41p.m.: Just before the debate, Jimmy Fallon apologizes for the intro to Michele Bachamnn's appearance on his show Monday night, which was the song "Lyin' Ass Bitch."  He tweets "I'm honored that @michelebachmann was on our show yesterday and I'm so sorry about the intro mess. I really hope she comes back."
7:29p.m.: Newt Gingrich was riding so high on his new frontrunner status that he forgot to file to be on the ballot in Missouri's February 7 primary, The Washington Post's Paul West reports. The deadline was 5p.m. today. The price was just $1,000. All the other candidates debating tonight will be on the ballot.
7:23p.m.: Opening ceremonies feature a group singing "I'll Be There," Politico's Mike Allen notes. Jon Huntsman's daughters and wife are ready:
Dad got ready earlier today:
5:02p.m.: Bachmann said this month the U.S. economy could grow faster if it became less socialist like China, which is a communist country. Paul was booed at an earlier debate for suggesting American foreign policy encouraged terrorists to attack us. Huntsman says he was merely doing his duty to serve the country when he took a job as ambassador to China under President Obama, even though he quit that job to run for Obama's. Santorum has been the most open about begging for love. When Hot Air's Ed Morrissey asked him if he deserved a "second look" from Republicans, Santorum shot back, "They haven’t really taken a first look." All that time in the wilderness has made the former frat guy introspective. Noting that Saturday Night Live portrays him as "Angry Santorum," he told ABC News' Shushannah Walshe, "I’m not angry. Do you think I’m angry? I’m not an angry guy. I get wound up and passionate about things, but I’m not angry." Still, he's taken apologizing for sounding angry at campaign events, explaining that he's just "passionate." It will be interesting to see how he balances that tonight when talking about Israel, an issue he's shown quite a bit of passion about in previous debates.

CNN's Todd Graham sums up their positions like this:

  • Negotiating with the Taliban: Yes = Gingrich; No = Romney.
  • If needed, going to war with Iran: Yes = Romney, Gingrich, Santorum; No = Cain, Paul.
  • Use of waterboarding: Yes = Cain, Bachmann, Perry; No = Huntsman, Paul.
  • Quickly pulling out of Afghanistan: Yes = Huntsman, Paul; No = Perry, Romney.
  • Giving foreign aid without preconditions (especially to countries like Pakistan): Yes = Bachmann, Santorum; No = Perry, Gingrich.
We'll be watching to see how the candidates stick to them.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.