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Pre-debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan 16, 2012

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About last night’s GOP presidential debate in South Carolina, I have a few notes for you, just a few. Nothing earthshaking. Just some minor observations.

Bret Baier is incredibly cheerful-looking. All-American, Rockwellesque — almost Opie-grown-up. (I mean this in a complimentary way, trust me.)

Everyone — questioners and answerers — kept saying, “This is Martin Luther King Day.” Yes. And it was also Monday.

(I’ll switch to the present tense now, if you don’t mind.)

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Newt insists that he has merely “raised questions” about Romney, “giving him an opportunity to answer them.” Well, how nice of Newt, what a peach! Actually, he hasn’t raised questions, he’s leveled charges.

Nothing wrong with that, necessarily. It’s just so.

“I wasn’t mauling you in that back alley. I was giving you a chance to test your defensive skills.”

Romney seems determined to be chipper, come what may. He’s a little too polite tonight, for my taste. Innocuous, anodyne. I wish he’d fight back a little more.

Ron Paul has this funny move, or position, like he’s sucking his right cheek.

Habitually, after he completes an answer, Romney gives a little forced smile and nod. It’s his coda, or period. Grows wearisome, in my opinion.

Jerry Seib looks like one bad-ass questioner — a Grim Reaper of a questioner.

The debate becomes a ridiculous piling-on, with Romney as the piling-on-ee. He’s like the guy in the dunking pool. Are the other candidates so inconsequential that they are not a focus of attention or debate?

Santorum keeps the whininess and petulance to a bare minimum. He is damn near statesmanlike tonight.

He does have the same disease as everyone else: With the verb “advocate,” he uses “for,” as in, “I advocated for a right-to-work bill” (or something).

I’m afraid this disease is here to stay. It has burrowed into the language. Blech.

Romney, slipping, says “Democratic legislature,” when the approved boobish Republican way of saying that is “Democrat legislature.” He’d better get back on track if he wants the nomination.

“Democrat wars!” said Bob Dole, famously, in the 1976 vice-presidential debate.

As a rule, Romney is better in positive mode than in negative mode. He does not go negative in a natural, persuasive way, it seems to me. (I still wish he’d fight back — though ably.)

Did Rick Perry say South Carolina is at war with the federal government? Déjà vu all over again?

Man oh man does Newt know a lot about policy (and much else).

When Newt’s really rolling — when he’s at his best — the other candidates enjoy his remarks too. They can’t help it. They just smile and nod.

I have said Mitt is better when positive. That goes double — triple, quadruple — for Newt.

Romney is more platitudinous than usual. Also, he says the same things over and over, in these debates — all of them. I notice no tailoring to South Carolina. That’s good, in a way. Consistency. (The biggest rap on him is inconsistency.)

A couple of times, Paul says something like, “I thought we were all supposed to be conservatives.” But Paul is not a conservative, is he? He’s a proud libertarian, right? Why should he appoint himself arbiter of the conservatives and conservatism? Let him speak for libertarianism, you know?

The debate is getting so boring, I wish Huntsman were around to throw in some Chinese.

I’m a little confused: Will Romney release his taxes or won’t he? Is there a principle behind releasing or not releasing? Romney is all muddled here. Clarity would be welcome.

I had an easier time understanding Huntsman’s Chinese . . .

Romney gives a pretty good answer on why his immigration policies are not anti-Hispanic. But I wish he’d say this: that Hispanic citizens are as much in favor of the rule of law as any other Americans. Probably more so.

When pronouncing the word “route,” do you say “root” or “rout”? Romney says “rout.” At least he did on one occasion tonight. (I say both, depending. I imagine that’s true of most Americans.)

At one of the New Hampshire debates, Paul expressed three of the standard grievances of the Left: that blacks are targeted for drug arrests, targeted for execution, and targeted for war service. A questioner leads him to express the same grievances here.

Hmmm — a way for Paul to wash himself clean of the racism in his newsletters? Is that why he goes in for this stuff?

He likes to say that white millionaires aren’t executed. If white millionaires commit crimes that would get a poor black person the chair — they escape frying? Really?

If a Rockefeller goes on a murder spree, he dies in bed?

I dunno. Seems to me the “system” would be especially eager to zap ’im. Maybe I’m wrong.

On this, I’m not wrong, I know: When Newt’s on, he is thrilling. I keep saying that in these debate notes, I realize. But it’s true. The best thing that can happen to Newt is a journalist’s decision to tangle with him, especially from the left.

Suggest he’s a racist because he talks about the dignity of work and the indignity of food stamps? He’ll clean your clock. At least in my book.

Thrilling.

About 8 million times in 2004, John Kerry alleged that American forces had Osama bin Laden trapped in Tora Bora, only to let him go because George W. Bush wanted to pursue Saddam Hussein at the expense of everything else. He had no interest in capturing or killing bin Laden.

And if you believe that . . .

Well, Ron Paul makes the same, or a similar, Tora Bora point. Transported me immediately to John Kerry and ’04.



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