Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Blogging on the early part of New Hampshire debate


Republican Presidential Debate, Live

Introduction The 10 Republican presidential candidates attempt to score points with the US public in New Hampshire tonight for the second debate of the presidential primary campaign, in a two-hour format that includes questions from journalists and voters.

Preamble Good evening (if you're reading this in the US), good night (in the UK) or good morning (in Kiribati), welcome to the debate between the Republican presidential contenders taking place in New Hampshire. The debate kicks off at 7pm Eastern Time (ET), which is midnight British Summer Time.

There being 10 Republican contenders tonight, it won't be much of a debate, more of a multiple-choice exam, on a stage that looks like the set of The Weakest Link. Sadly the participants don't get to vote anyone off - although maybe they should? It would liven things up a bit.

The bad news is that hanging over this debate, like Banquo's ghost, is the specter of Fred Thompson, the Die Hard 2 actor and former senator. Thompson is about to announce he's going to run for the Republican nomination. But he's not going to be here tonight - a good thing really, or they'd have to buy a bigger stage. Or start a football team.

As many of the candidates are not household names, even in their own household, here's an entirely impressionistic guide, in order of most plausible to longest shot. Do not adjust your monitor: all of the candidates are white, elderly-ish men.

Rudy Giuliani: The front runner, despite being sort of pro-abortion, pro-gay rights and anti-gun, thanks to being a national hero in the wake of 9/11.

John McCain: Another national hero, having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years. But for the last six years he's been the prisoner of George Bush in Iraq. Old.

Mitt Romney: Handsome, successful, intelligent, wealthy ... he'd be perfect if he wasn't a Mormon. And didn't look a little like Count Dracula. Has no chance unless Giuliani, McCain and Thompson all catch the plague.

Tommy Thompson: Former governor of Wisconsin. Had a brain spasm during an earlier debate, saying employers should be able to sack gay staff. No relation to Fred Thompson, who might actually win.

Mike Huckabee: Former governor of Arkansas - as was Bill Clinton. But that's all they have in common. Used to be fat but lost a lot of weight.

Tom Tancredo: Swivel-eyed on the subject of illegal immigration, he is threatening to run as an independent. Once described by Jeb Bush as "a nut".

Duncan Hunter: Californian congressman and Vietnam vet, Hunter is rabidly anti-abortion and wants a big fence built between the US and Mexico, which would only cost a trillion or so dollars.

Ron Paul: Barely even a Republican except in name, this congressman has a loyal band of internet fans. Supports various crazy ideas, like abolishing tax. Got smacked around by Giuliani last time.

Sam Brownback: Senator from Kansas, he's the gays-and-abortions-over-my-dead-body candidate. In favour of teaching "intelligent design" in schools.

Jim Gilmore: Former governor of Virginia. Otherwise, who cares?

The big issues tonight are likely to be immigration, immigration and immigration - the subject that is tearing the Republican party apart. And Iraq, or "the war on terror". And Scooter Libby, who today was sentenced to three years in the big house. John McCain backs the current immigration reform bill, and the others will be lining up to take a pop at him.

6.55pm ET And the emails pour in. Well, one. "Hi," writes Cris. "I'm not a Paul follower at all. But i do think your characterization
of him as being 'smacked around by Guiliani' is silly." Dude, he got so smacked down by Giuliani when he suggested America was asking for it on 9/11. "In fact," Cris continues, "he has been making extremely interesting speeches about it in the senate." Except that Ron Paul's in the house, not the senate. And his current poll rating is about 2%.

6.57pm The candidates are coming out on stage...

7pm And we're off for two hours of political fun. Wolf Blitzer, the CNN moderator, kicks things off with the ground rules, no spitting, no gouging and so on. What a wonderful place New Hampshire is, and so forth.

7.03 The candidates introduce themselves... Tommy Thompson says "I'm the candidate, not the actor."

7.04 Mike Huckabee says "I'm from Hope, Arkansas, you may have heard of it. All I'm asking is, give us one more chance." A joke about Bill Clinton.

7.05 First question: 3,400 US troops killed in Iraq. Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? Romney says it's a non sequitar, and fails to answer the question. Wolf Blitzer presses him, and Romney again says its a non sequitar - it's a hypothetical. Except it's not really.

7.07 Giuliani says it was absolutely the right thing to do.

7.10 Blitzer asks the senators present if they read the National Intelligence Estimate before voting to authorize the war. McCain and Brownback say they didn't and Brownback says he wants to split Iraq into three bits.

7.11 New question: what if the surge doesn't work? Huh? Then what? McCain says it needs a chance - if we fail they will follow us home. Then he rags on Hillary Clinton for calling it "President Bush's war" for reasons that aren't quite clear. But he hasn't answered the question. "We'd have to examine the options," says McCain, and then says we'd have to examine the bedrooms of Baghdad if you split up Iraq. Really.

7.15 Tommy Thompson shouting about oil revenues. Hmm. Now Duncan Hunter is getting technical about rotating troops. Ron Paul talks - "The sooner we come home the better."

7.17 Mike Huckabee says its not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the fight in dog that counts. "We underestimated the size of the fight in the dog." Well that's cleared that up, eh?

7.20 Benjamin emails to tell me that Jim Gilmore (who hasn't spoken yet) was in fact governor of Virginia, not South Carolina. Quite right, I was thinking of ... that guy who's governor of South Carolina. Mike Sanford. Now he'd be better as president those most of these guys.

7.23 Jim Gilmore speaks! In a strong Virginian accent. He says we need to tell Iran that having nukes is "unacceptable". Like, it's impolite. Now, Mitt Romney is asked if he'd use tactical nukes against Iran. "I wouldn't take any options off the table." Yikes. Then waffles. There's lightning outside.

7.25 Here we go: immigration. Tom Tancredo thinks the current proposals are the biggest crisis facing the country and may lead to the destruction of the US. "We are becoming a bilingual nation and that is not good!" God yes, look at Canada.

7.27 Blitzer asks Romney about his being accused of flip-flopping by John McCain. What do you say to Senator McCain? "I consider him a friend," says Romney, smiling in a lupine manner. Wooo.

McCain is asked about immigration, and he namechecks Judd Gregg, the local New Hampshire Republican senator, saying "I consider him a friend." Take that Mitt Romney.

7.30 Giuliani blames everything on Washington. Blityzer asks Romney what he would do about the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. "Enforce the law," he says. Zzz.

Another question on immigration - who'd do all the jobs? Duncan Hunter mentions a meatpacking plant somewhere where they busted the undocumented workers. "There were American citizens lined up to get their jobs back at $18 an hour."

7.35 Tommy Thompson wins a prize for being the 1,000th presidential candidate to give an answer about immigration that uses the phrase: "The first thing we need is a secure border." Ron Paul is asked if a fence needs to be built along the border with Canada. Keep those dangerous Canuks out! He says no and then goes off on one.

7.38 New question: who doesn't think English should be the official language of the US? Rather surprisingly, groovy John McCain sticks his hand up - the only one, saying everything is working fine and that they respect native Americans using their own language already. Excellent point - but no one backs him up. Hats off to the straight talker there.

7.40 A half-assed question about Fred Thompson. Hey, just realised that Tommy Thompson has had a funky new haircut.

There are very strange zapping noises going off - it's lightning hitting the building. Wolf Blitzer asks Giuliani about how it feels to be slagged off by bishops calling him a hypocrite over abortion. Suddenly, the lightning hits several times - and everyone laughs.

7.45 Evolution now - Huckabee says he believes God created the world. But do you believe it literally, asks Wolf? "I don't know, I wasn't there," says Huckabee. Brownback next and he says we were all created by God for a purpose.

McCain says it should be up to the school district, but then says he thinks people should be exposed to all views - which is a sort of Republican code for saying that you can teach creationism if you want to, as if the two are at all on the same level and it's just a debate. Hmm.

7.48 Romney is asked about being a Mormon. Waffles on, and then claims he thinks people "hope I will distance himself from my faith" and says it ain't gonna happen. Ron Paul says it should be up to the local level. Thanks Ron.

7.51 Global warming? Giuliani says we need an "Apollo project" to do stuff about it, or at least energy efficiency. Mitt Romney is now blaming Russia and Iran for selling oil - so it's not the fault of American motorists then, they're the victims. Ah ha.

Another email about Ron Paul - these guys love that inter-web. Muhammad Idrees Ahmad goes back to the Giuliani smack-down. "Like the rest of the banalities you recycle, I suspect you are merely reproducing commentary you gleaned off US mainstream media." That's my career in a nutshell, Muhammad. Sadly for Ron, he has as much chance as I do of getting elected president - and I'm barred by the constitution.

7.56 Ron Paul is asked about gays in the military: he says "don't ask, don't tell" is a good policy, and says it's an issue of individual rights. Romney says it seems to be working, and that he supports it. McCain, the old sailor, says he's proud "of every one of them". But says the issue should n't be re-opened. "It's working my friends, the policy is working." Show of hands - no one believes that gays should serve openly in the military.

Another email: from Harjit in Detroit. "McCain just stood up for native Americans on the English as a national language issue. That's the first time I've ever heard anyone refer to any other ethnic group except Hispanics when it comes to this subject. My god, I'm beginning to like a Republican." Don't worry, it won't last.

8.00pm An hour gone, the next question is: what will you do with President Bush? Tommy Thompson says "Well, I wouldn't send him to the UN." Tom Tancredo (why do all the candidates have the initials TT?) gets nasty, saying he wouldn't let Bush darken the doors of the White House, because that's what Karl Rove told him.

An email from London: "Mitt's really freaking me out. Looks like the love child of Nixon and the famously handsome Danish prime minster, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, plus he sounds a bit like a posh Jon Stewart." The thought of anything being the love child of Nixon freaks me out."

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