The two debates in the next 12 hours are supposed to offer what we've been waiting for all year: the Not Mitt Romney candidates attacking Mitt Romney. So far, the conventional wisdom goes, the Not Romneys have gone after each other, instead of the frontrunner. That's supposed to change tonight. And while Newt Gingrich can't hide his excitement at the chance to tear into Romney ("It's fight night," his spokesman told NBC News' Alex Moe), it's worth noting that the guys who came in second and third to Romney in Iowa -- Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- believe opposite things. Santorum is a social conservative who supports offering incentives to bring manufacturing back to America, and Paul is a libertarian who talked about legalizing all kinds of things at earlier debates. It's hard to imagine they'll ignore each other. We'll be liveblogging tonight's New Hampshire debate -- which starts at 9p.m. eastern time on ABC News -- beginning at about 8p.m.
11:00p.m.: We were promised fireworks tonight, and we got sparklers. This was the night when the Not Romneys were supposed to show why a Not Romney is necessary, but Romney cruised through without even having to defend his health care record. The debate was subdued enough that it was hard to take screen grabs of the candidates' contorted faces! (They refused to contort.) We did learn a few things: Rick Santorum is against the phrase "middle class." Newt Gingrich is against "secular bigotry." Rick Perry is for re-invading Iraq and very high collars. Paul is against chickenhawks. What we didn't learn: how the candidates' wives stay so dewey. Please send moisturization tips!
We'll be back for the next debate. It's in about 10 hours.
10:43p.m.: And that's the end of the debate. Shots so not fired. Hilariously, the commercial break features former presidential candidate Fred Thompson -- who was supposed to destroy the other Republicans in 2008 with his southern accent and actor's ability to play to the camera -- talking about "reverse mortgages."
10:41p.m.: If you weren't here tonight, where would you be? "I'd probably be at the shooting range," Perry says, trying to sound manly. But it's actually an unmanly misstep, because it reveals he forgot there's a football game on!
Everyone else says they'd be watching football, except Huntsman, who says he'd be on the phone with his sons in the Navy, and Ron Paul, who says he'd be with his family but "if they all went to bed i'd probably read an economic textbook."
10:29p.m.: Santorum comes out against the term "middle class" because we don't have titles in America and it's just a term Democrats use to divide people. "Middle income" might be okay, he says. Santorum says he doesn't want to divide Americans. The New York Times' Mark Leibovich reported today:
In his appearances across Iowa in recent months, Mr. Santorum has said that he was willing to work with his ideological counterparts, citing Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, as an ally on several issues.
But the two lawmakers were at odds in the late 1990s during a debate over the procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion...
Santorum deployed oversize pictures of fetuses and spoke of how a doctor “brutally kills” a fetus “by thrusting a pair of scissors into the back of its skull and suctioning its brains out.” He invited into the visitors’ gallery a 5-year old girl who had survived a serious in-utero condition that had, according to Mr. Santorum, made her mother a candidate for the late-term procedure. Ms. Boxer objected, saying it was “ exploitive to have a child present.”
Ms. Boxer, who declined to comment for this article, has criticized her former colleague for his tendency to become so “harsh and personal” in his Senate dealings.
10:28p.m.: A lot of shots of the candidates' wives tonight. Callista Gingrich:
10:23p.m.: These guys were supposed to be murdering Mitt Romney all night and they haven't even mentioned health care. Romney even felt free to say we need some taxes to take care of people who can't take care of themselves. This debate isn't much different than all the ones that came before, except we don't have Michele Bachmann in her signature angelic white suits.
10:19p.m.: Gingrich talks about infrastructure and discusses a state issue. Yeah, Newt, talking infrastructure is the way you're gonna catch up to Mitt and fend off Santo. #gloveson," Politico's Jonathan Martin tweets. "Newt is really running for governor of New Hampshire tonight," The Atlantic's Molly Ball says.
10:06p.m.: Perry wants to send troops back to Iraq.
Really? In December, 78 percent of Americans said they supported President Obama's decision to pull the last troops out of Iraq.
Really: "I would sent troops back into Iraq."
10:01p.m.: Conservative tweeters did not like all that discussion of gay marriage.
- "Another topic please!!" The National Review's Rich Lowry tweets.
- "Exactly." Republican strategist Mike Murphy responds.
- "This is quickly turning into GOP candidates against the moderators/questions. Newt's complaints often forced, not this time," The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes says.
- "OK, so this debate is the one where we bring up the things that Democrats hate about the GOP," New Hampshire conservative William Smith writes.
- "Great moment for Newt on 'anti-Christian bigotry' in govt and media," Hot Air's Ed Morrissey tweets.
Dudes! Just 'cause the majority of Americans disagree with Republican candidates' positions on this issue doesn't mean the issue isn't important. The "man on dog" candidate is at center stage, after all. His appeal to evangelicals is the reason he nearly beat Romney in Iowa.
9:52p.m.: Gingrich does what made him so popular in early debates: attack the media. He's made "we spent so much time" on gay marriage. Referencing "secular bigotry," Gingrich says, "There's a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is on the other side," Gingrich says, saying it never gets covered by the media. Which war have Americans forgotten about: the war in Afghanistan or the war on Christmas?
There was a lot of literal finger-pointing in this answer.
9:46p.m.: Huntsman is not happy the candidates just spent 15 minutes on contraception, by his (over-) estimation. Also implies he did not make much use of it, given his seven kids. (Cameras then pan to his wife and daughter looking uncomfortable.) He says he supports civil unions because they bring "a level of dignity to relationships."
9:44p.m.: "Contraception? It's working just fine! Leave it alone," Romney says.
9:39p.m.: Romney told a joke! A real joke, ad-libbed on the spot! And people laughed! (Romney has a history of being really bad at jokes.) Asked if states have the right to outlaw contraception, Romney appears baffled at this question (is he unaware that Santorum has said that contraception encourages misbehavior in "the sexual realm"?) Would the constitution allow it? the moderator asks. Romney says no one wants to outlaw contraception, but "We could ask the constitutionalist here." Okay, it's not that funny, but there's a low bar in presidential debates.
9:37p.m.: The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin tweets, "Romney is killing because the others are killing eachother." Did we mention we predicted this? Because we predicted this.
9:34p.m.: It's easy to see why some liberals love Ron Paul. As we've pointed out at several debates, Paul says all the things liberals were dying to hear from their candidates in 2003 and 2004. Paul says the Iraq war was unnecessary, that Guantanamo Bay violates our core principles, that American foreign policy is to blame for Islamist blowback. In the last week or so, he's taken up another talking point of two presidential elections ago: that many people who support the wars in the Middle East got out of Vietnam through deferments.
Tonight, Paul made that case directly to Gingrich's face, saying Gingrich was a chickenhawk -- a "pet peeve" of Paul's. Gingrich counters that he had a wife and kid during Vietnam, but his dad went, so "I think I have a pretty good idea what it feels like to worry about your father being killed." Paul has a one-line response: "When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids, and I went."
9:29p.m.: The height of Rick Perry's shirt collars is only matched by the height of Karl Lagerfeld's.
9:24p.m.: Democratic strategist Paul Begala tweets, "Rick Perry attacks...RON PAUL and Paul attacks Santorum?! Can anyone in this band play the tuba? Someone please attack Romney!" See! We knew it! As noted above, these Not Romneys can't resist going after each other. It's that part in the movie when the Mighty Ducks start fighting each other, and their coach, instead of the other team. Focus, guys!
9:17p.m.: As Paul and Santorum argue over who's a big government spender, the candidate's facial expressions tell you a lot about these guys' personalities. Romney has a tight smile, Santorum's smirking at the thought of being criticized by Paul, and Paul is convinced he's just telling it like it is.
9:15p.m.: Romney denied that when he says he created 100,000 jobs at Bain, he's not subtracting all the people he fired. "I'm a good enough numbers guy" to know to count that, Romney says. But The Washington Post's Ezra Klein points out that's not true. The paper's Fact Checker column finds:
[Romney's spokesman] says the 100,000 figure stems from the growth in jobs from three companies that Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).
This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.
9:10p.m.: Huntsman gets a chance to attack Romney's Bain days, but doesn't really bite. "Well, it's his record, and therefore it's going to be talked about… Everybody up here has a record that ought to be scrutinized." But mostly talks about his own record.
9:07p.m.: In Gingrich's first answer, he attacks Romney too. He says people should look at Romney's experience at Bain Capital, and whether people were better off after he took over the companies they worked for.
9:06p.m.: Santorum accidentally says he's still in Iowa. That can be forgiven -- he moved his whole family there. He criticizes Romney in his first answer, saying America doesn't need a business manager, because businessmen don't have experience dealing with Iran.
8:56p.m.: The New Hampshire room full of reporters watching the debate has gotten really crowded in the last half hour, judging by Townhall's Guy Benson's tweet. If you don't get much turnout at your party tonight, it's because all the cool kids are spending their Saturday night doing this.
8:49p.m.: The most important news outside of New Hampshire: The New York Daily News reports that Beyoncé is in the hospital about to give birth to her and Jay-Z's baby!
8:44p.m.: Jon Huntsman needs a miracle in New Hampshire Tuesday. He's staked his whole campaign on the state, and so far, it hasn't really paid off. If he drops out of the race, the Republican primary will be so much less visually interesting -- not just because we'll miss Huntsman's gingham shirts and trucker jackets, but because we'll miss his self-promoting daughters. We need you Jon Huntsman -- you have no idea what a drag it is to download photos of navy blue suits all day! But in an interview with Politico, it sounds like Huntsman's lost his hooch. "I believe in the ideas put forward by Theodore White, the cycles of history… I believe we are in one such cycle. I think that cycle ultimately takes us to a sane Republican Party based on real ideas." "Ultimately" doesn't sound soon enough to mean Tuesday.
8:26p.m.: The New York Times' Nick Confessore tweets this photo of "the entire presidential press corps" watching the debate "on a giant screen a quarter mile from the debate."
It doesn't look like a very fun party.
8:33p.m.: Politico's Jim VandeHei and Maggie Haberman wonder whether we'll see Good Newt or Bad Newt tonight. His charming debate performances helped him briefly pull ahead of Romney in polls, but since Iowa, he's shown more and more of his "acid tongue and nasty streak."
And Wayne Washington, of the South Carolina newspaper The State, points out that in the last week, Gingrich hasn't been the only one dabbling in ugly rhetoric. Washington writes, "three Republican Party presidential candidates have tied either black people, in general, or President Barack Obama, in particular, to welfare or other forms of public assistance that, the candidates say, lead to dependency, out-of-control government spending and a culture of entitlement that is harming the nation." Are they telling it like it is? Or trying to play to the racial politics in South Carolina?
8:15p.m.: This will be the first debate where Santorum gets lots of attention. He'll share center state with Romney tonight, Politico's Dylan Byers reports. Will he charm voters? Maybe only with the help of a buzzer to tell him when to stop talking. National Journal's Ron Fournier reports on the impression Santorum leaves on the campaign trail:
"He reminds me of a high school student who transfers into an honors class and tries to show everybody how smart he is,'" said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman who attended a Santorum town hall this week. "It gets annoying."
There's one problem with Cullen's analysis, though: has the above situation ever happened in high school? In college, sure. But among teenage honor students (which includes both nerds and girls with perfect handwriting), the social hierarchy is based on being cool. Not trying "to show everybody how smart" they are, right?
Still, it's another datapoint for Glenn Greenwald, who has written about how media and political people never get over high school.