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GOP Florida debate: Show us the conservatism; Update: Icky public displays of affection; Grade: Zzzzzzz

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 24, 2008 06:42 PM

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Update 11:25pm Eastern. In response to my Huckabee-McCain PDA Alerts, commenter BlameAmericaLast renames the Huckster: Suckupabee.

It fits.

Update 10:37pm Eastern. This debate is over. It never began. I give it a D for dull. Dud. Dumb. Droning. Devoid.

No, wait. A D is too generous.

I give it a Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Romney scored in his answers on Iraq and defense of his campaign spending. And his quip on Billary: “I frankly can’t wait because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I can’t imagine.”

Rudy lost because he failed to demonstrate the magnetic, head-turning charisma of a front-runner. He had the hang-dog, laid-back presence of a guy on his way out.

McCain managed not to snarl or curse at anyone. He won because he got away without having to answer a single question about immigration.

Huck left a puddle of drool at McCain’s feet.

Paul squeezed in his Down With Empire talking points.

Conservative voters in Florida are the big losers. This debate gave them nothing.

Video highlights, what little there were, are up at Hot Air.

Michael Graham wants his 90 minutes back. Seriously. I could have been crocheting.

Update 10:36pm Eastern. Ron Paul: “The Republican Party has a problem because we don’t act like Republicans.” I agree with what he’s saying…until he starts foaming at the mouth about empire.

Update 10:29pm Eastern. Williams quotes NYTimes attacks on Giuliani. Rudy attacks NYT credibility.

Rudy, 1. Williams, 0.

Audience applause.

I still don’t think he’s got enough mojo.

Williams brings up the NYT (again!) and its hit piece on Romney. Romney smiles: “I’m not going to Washington to make friends with politicians. I’m going to Wasington to change things.”

Romney defends himself against flip-flopping.

Williams cites LATimes saying McCain’s temper is an issue. “Do you see that as a problem?”

“I don’t.”

Laughter.

McCain stops answering the question to say nice things about Rudy.

It’s like a Swan Song for Rudy.

ALERT: MCCAIN/RUDY PUBLIC DISPLAY OF AFFECTION.

Huck gets question on religion: “It doesn’t give me a queasy feeling, it gives me a solid core.”
Update 10:27pm Eastern. Question for Huck about Chuck Norris attacking McCain’s age. I didn’t disagree with him because I was standing next to him (laughter).

RED ALERT: SECOND HUCK/MCCAIN PUBLIC DISPLAY OF AFFECTION.

Ick. Needs a PG-13 rating.

McCain: Now that Sylvester Stallone and Norman Schwarzkopf have endorsed me, I’ll send them to Chuck Norris.

Ho-ho-ho. Ha-ha-ha.

Blech.

Update 10:23pm Eastern. FINALLY. A St. Pete reader asks why Rudy is airing Spanish language ads when he says he supports English as an official language? Laughter. Yeah. Ditto that.

He says it’s “outreach” and changes subject to his immigration plan.

Grade for that answer: F.

Russert follows up with wet-foot/dry-foot Cuba policy. Why a special policy for Cuba? Rudy reviews history. Weird. He just made a grimace-y, weird face.

Update 10:19pm Eastern. We’re an hour and nineteen minutes into this debate and not a single immigration question.

Russert asks an entitlement question. Huck squeezes in an inheritance tax reform pitch directed at Romney’s sons. Whatever.

Update 10:11pm Eastern. Romney asked about how he would run against Billary. “I can’t wait. I think the idea of Bill Clinton in the White House with nothing to do” is something people won’t want. (Audience laughter.) “She is exactly what’s wrong with Washington. She’s been there too long. The last thing people need is sending the Clintons back to Washington.”

Easy question. Red meat.

Russert asks Romney how much of his own money he’s spent. We’ll report on Jan. 31 and not a minute earlier. Why not tell people how much own wealth? It’s competitive information. I’ve raised more than any other Republican in this race…not as much as Corzine, Forbes, Bloomberg. But I’ve made a substantial contribution. Couldn’t ask friends to contribute without contributing myself. Not beholden to special interests. Doesn’t owe anyone.

Effectively bats down accusation of “buying Florida.” He cares about the country, wants strong and vibrant nation.

Getting a lot of time to defend himself. “I’m giving it my all.”

Williams gets in a Mormon question. “I don’t think for a minute that people will say they won’t vote for a secular position based on candidate’s church.”

Romney’s being treated like the front-runner and he’s acting like it. Regained his confidence after that shaky Second Amendment answer. Extols individual freedom in America.

Update 10:09pm Eastern. Williams goes to McCain. Refers to statements his mom made on C-SPAN that the base will have to “hold its nose” and vote for McCain. I got the transcript on this earlier today and alerted Hot Air. Allah blogs the exchange with Roberta McCain here. Her exact quote: “Yes, I think holding their nose they’re going to have to take him.”

McCain refers to supporting conservative judges, says he’s proud to be conservative.

No mention of border security.

Update 10:07pm Eastern. Back from another commercial break. Brian Williams goes to Rudy on his abysmal campaign crack-up. Ouch. “This has always been a competitive race. I have the faith the Giants had last week. We’re going to come from behind, win from Florida, lull people into a false sense of security…” Notes Romney asking him a nice question.

Boy, what a dud. He doesn’t believe his own spin. How will anyone else?

Update 10:01pm Eastern. New topic – environment. Rudy is talking biofuels. McCain is talking cap and trade. See my prior comments about the enviro-nitwit-ization of the GOP.

You know what I said a few minutes ago about grabbing the popcorn? Never mind. That segment was a d-u-d. How could Romney not question McCain about immigration?

Update 9:53pm Eastern. Huck asks Romney about the Second Amendment and ban on assault weapons/Brady. The first frontal attack question. Was wondering if there would be one. Huck: “That’s not consistent…Do you support Brady? Do you support the assault weapons ban and restrictions you support?”

Romney: Says he would have signed it like the president said he would. Says he supports individual right to bear arms. Says he doesn’t support any new legislation.

Romney seemed tentative and nervous.

Rudy directs his question to Romney, too. But it’s really an attack on McCain. Romney mentions that McCain doesn’t support national catastrophic insurance fund as a backstop. Big parochial issue in Florida. McCain cracks: “Who’s answering this question?” Romney supports it. Looks like a Rudy-Romney pander tag team. States in high-risk areas should organize on national basis actuarially. So, I guess he does and he doesn’t support national catastrophic government fund. He’s talking about a “free-market solution.” Rudy wants to know if he supports a mandate. I’m not sure what he’s saying.

McCain gets to answer. “We have to address the issue. Regionally. Increase the risk pool. Reform insurance. The bill in the House was $200 billion, no way to pay for it.”

Update 9:40pm Eastern. Commercial break. Next portion will feature candidates asking each other questions. Get out the popcorn.

Here we go. Romney goes first. He raises the specter of China. “How will we have trade with China that protects America, on a level playing field?” Question goes to Rudy, though it’s really more of a question and answer session with himself. Sorry, I didn’t really pay attention to Rudy’s answer.

I was thinking about how Romney’s question/statement may have been a way to defend himself from a Huck attack on his ties to Bain Capital.(which Duncan Hunter alluded to and is the primary reason he opposes Romney)

Anyway…

McCain asks Huck about Fair Tax. How do you answer criticism that flat tax would cause more pain to low-income Americans…how do you account for resonance? Softball for sweethearts. “And when you’re done, Governor, could you also comment on how many Republicans would like to see you as my vice president…”

Kissy-kissy.

Huck: “We’re penalized for productivity in this country. Republicans ought to embrace the fair tax…”

Russert follows up: 93 percent sales tax. How does this help those paying 15 percent?

Update 9:34pm Eastern. Excellent Romney answer on Iraq. Strong, tough, focused on the surrendercrats. He takes on Dems for their withdrawalmania…cites debate in SC when Hillary refused to say she wanted to win and recycled Code Pink line.

Romney excoriates Dems and says “how dare they” take credit for surge.

Applause.

Romney just out-McCained McCain on the war.

Russert: Was the war a good idea and worth the blood and treasure?

McCain: It was worth it. Our men will return and return with honor, having fought al Qaeda over there.

Rudy: I’m for it when 6 out of 10 were for it and when 6 out of 10 were against it. Also very strong objecting to conducting war by polls.

Paul: It was a very bad idea and it wasn’t worth it. Falsely claims that al Qaeda wasn’t there and is now. Blames America for starting the war.

Huck: I supported the president when he went into this. He deserves our thanks, not scorn.

Update 9:27pm Eastern. We’re not breaking any new ground here. Romney’s repeating his “Washington is broken” line for the thousandth time. “Change has to begin with us. We are the party of change.”

Really? The Republicans are the Party of Change? When did that happen?

St Pete Times editor reads some question. First for McCain: How can we sustain Iraq with bad economy? McCain: If we do what Hillary wants, the expenses of surrender will be paid in blood and treasure. McCain repeats his pride for advocating surge first. Proud of our troops for not waving the White Flag of Surrender.

Update 9:20pm Eastern. Hey, did ya know that Rudy rejected Saudi prince’s money? If you missed it the last 1,000 times he mentioned in past debates and TV appearance, he just told the whole story again.

Russert talks deficits. “Why should Republicans be re-elected?” McCain says Democrats would spend more, make entitlement crisis worse, increase taxes. McCain lambastes Bush-aspproved earmarks/pork/Bridge to Nowhere projects. “I’ll veto them…we will clean up our act, fix this problem of having to borrow money from China, balance our budget.”

Huck gets a question. I forgot he was there. “I wasn’t in Washington messing things up. That’s why I should get a chance.” Refuses to blame Bush. Huck pats himself on the back for saying the economy was bad before any of his GOP challengers recognized it.

Update 9:14pm Eastern. Romney defends his Mass. tax record. Criticizes McCain for not supporting Bush tax cuts the first time around.

Russert invites McCain to attack Romney’s fee hikes. He defends his opposition to Bush tax cuts and asserts his fiscal conservative bona fides.

Ron Paul objects to appropriating more money for stimulus…immediately segues to war spending on Empire. Natch.

Update 9:04pm Eastern. Ok, here we go. Stimulus-palooza is the first topic. Romney supports the Bush plan, but wish it went further…more tax cuts, “grow jobs.”
“We have a housing crisis…that has spilled out into the economy…helping to reverse the crisis…is crucial.”

No words at all about fiscal responsibility, thrift, prudence, or the need for borrowers who made bad decisions to suck it up, let the market correct, and let housing prices fall.

No beef.

McCain worries about pork barrel projects. Likes expense write-offs. “The rate cuts by Bernanke are a good beginning, but we need to continue to cut tax rates.” We need to encourage saving (YES!) and cut spending.

Giuliani: The package is ok, but doesn’t go far enough. Make the Bush tax cuts permanent. (Good.) We need a permanent package. Regulatory reform. Comprehensive tax reform. (All good.)

Russert to McCain: You said you weren’t well-versed on economy. Is it a problem for your campaign? Maverick says he doesn’t know where the quote came from. Drops names of economic advisers – Martin Feldstein, Jack Kemp, etc., etc. “I have been a consistent fighter to restrain spending and cut taxes.” (See: “I’ve always been for tax cuts, except for the ones I vote against.”)

Huckabee attacks stimulus for putting money into people’s pockets so consumers can buy Chinese products. Ok. Wants infrastructure spending for highways from Bangor to Florida. Sounds like he’s on board with the Schumer plan.

6:42 PM. The GOP presidential candidates meet again for a Florida debate on MSNBC. The show begins at 9pm Eastern. I’ll be here. No bull–red or otherwise–tonight. Just me, you, and a batch of White House contenders who will be appealing for the first time to Republican primary voters first and foremost. Not independents. Not Democrats.

So: Show us the beef.

Sanctuary Rudy’s slipping. Big Nanny Huck’s fading. McCain’s still channeling Geraldo. And Romney’s running Spanish language ads.

Yes, this is the Republican field.

***

AP:

The Florida primary offers 57 Republican National Convention delegates to the winner. It is the first big state to vote in the nominating campaign, the first winner-take-all contest in terms of delegates, and the final election before a virtual national primary on Feb. 5.

The five contenders shared a stage as polls suggested Romney and McCain were co-frontrunners in the state. Both the former Massachusetts governor and the Arizona senator are campaigning aggressively and have sparred periodically over the economy and tax cuts.

Giuliani and Huckabee were well behind in the same surveys, and struggling.

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