Chris Matthews is asking the questions. The subject is the economy (so let's see who tries to leaven the discussion with easier material). The locale is Michigan. The big excitement is that Fred Thompson is making his first appearance in a debate.
Fred gets the first question. "I see no reason to believe we're headed for ... [gigantic, scary pause]... an economic downturn." Oh, Fred, do not do that again.
2. Mitt Romney is second, and he looks startlingly handsome after that long gaze into the face of Fred. Has he changed his appearance, or is it just the contrast? He seems so lively after the lethargic Thompson. He gets off a joke right away, just some silly business about how he was afraid the governor of Michigan would tax the debate, but it gets a huge laugh.
Next up is Giuliani, and he sounds vigorous, listing "fundamentals," and sneaking in the subject of baseball. Also, he throws out the red meat: too many lawsuits.
3. Ron Paul rails about the monetary system and assigns us homework: we need to study monetary theory. John McCain assigns Ron Paul homework: "The Wealth of Nations." He [McCain] was asked about the fairness of taxes, though, and he veers off the topic after he assures us that everyone pays taxes.
4. Mike Huckabee is asked about his idea for a national sales tax. Won't that mess up the economy? No, it'll be great because it will "un-tax productivity." And drug dealers, illegal aliens, and prostitutes and pimps will start paying taxes. Huckabee is the first person to sound really sympathetic to the problems of working people.
5. Oh, good Lord. I just got a glimpse of how many guys are on the stage. Who are they all? Duncan Hunter is complaining about "Communist China," and Matthews gives Thompson a chance to defend free trade. Sam Brownback won't raise taxes. Tancredo sounds rational booming about Medicare and Social Security. (His microphone is turned way up and echo-y.)
6. Giuliani wants to cut taxes as much as possible. (It worked in NYC.) Romney wants to cut taxes and spending. (It worked in Massachusetts.) He loved the line-item veto when he was Governor of Massachusetts and thinks we should have it at the federal level. No acknowledgment of its unconstitutionality.
Oh! Ha, ha. Giuliani is next, not only telling us the line-item veto is unconstitutional, but bragging that he, personally, took Bill Clinton to court and had it declared unconstitutional. He adds: "What the heck can you do about that if you're a strict constructionist?" Ha, ha. He got in an extra kick — the two of them both claim to be "strict constructionists" (to appease the pro-life sector of the party). Oh, that was rich! He beats Mitt down even further saying he brought taxes down in New York while Romney raised them. We see Romney in the split screen. Is he writhing in pain?
Romney gets "surrebuttal" time [— the WSJ transcript has "Sir, rebuttal" — ] and reels out competing statistics. "Look, we're both guys who are in favor of keeping spending down and keeping taxes down." We see Giuliani in the split screen. I'm guessing he's thinking about how he doesn't care what they — as "guys" — favor; the question is what do you do. For guys, it's the action that counts. Romney goes on to say the place they differ is on the line-item veto and "I'd have never gone to the Supreme Court." So. You mean you like executive power and you don't want to hear what the Supreme Court has to say about it? Matthews asks him if he believes the line-item veto is unconstitutional and he's all "I do not believe it is." Giuliani: "You don't get to 'believe' about it. The Supreme Court has ruled on it." And Bill Clinton was trying to take $200 million from his city unconstitutionally. (Bill Clinton! That outrageous renegade who's married to our inevitable opponent. Only Giuliani is beating up on Hillary at this point. He's out in front because of this.)
Now, if Mitt Romney was really knowledgeable at this point, he'd say that Justice Scalia wrote a wonderful dissent in New York v. United States saying that the so-called line-item veto was constitutional, and hasn't Giuliani been going around saying he wants to appoint Justices like Scalia? But we don't get the chance to see if he's that sharp, because they move on to another question. Yet I think if he'd known enough to say that he'd have insisted on getting one more shot in.
7. Sorry. I got interrupted. If this were my job, I'd have to finish, wouldn't I? (An economics point about an economics debate.)
8. [Added the following morning.] I'm sorry I didn't keep going, but think how long this post would have been. If you watch straight through without pausing, you can blog the whole thing without it getting ridiculous, but if you pause, it's a big problem. Anyway, I did eventually watch the whole thing, but nothing jumped out at me as interesting enough to describe. Maybe my plan for future debates will be: blogging the hell out of the first half hour. Most people leave after that, I'll bet, and I think the candidates act as if they believe they do. Giuliani and Mitt sure did, and this morning everyone's talking about how they overshadowed Fred the Debate Debutant.
Speaking of plans, I love the first comment in here by Trooper York:
Adm. Painter: What's his plan?
Jack Ryan: His plan?
Adm. Painter: Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan
(Fred Thompson as Adm. Painter in the Hunt for Red October 1990)