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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. The biggest story line is clearly the Perry meltdown. Close second are the strong performance by Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. But the bottom line is that Romney is still the most likely to be nominated.

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Cain’s doing well turning Dodd-Frank into a laugh line. He may be fatally damaged by harassment charges but he’s having another strong night.

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Michele Bachmann is the first to raise the military threat from China. Strong point and well argued. But she’s still struggling to get any traction in this debate. Good debate performances haven’t helped her.

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Romney says you can love free trade while still calling for demanding an end to Chinese trade cheating. Gingrich seems to agree. Hutnsman says Romney’s pandering. So is Huntsman. The difference is that Romney is pandering to Americans.

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I’m not sure if the other candidates are laughing with Cain or at him every time he says “bold” or “9-9-9.” It’s sort of funny for him to have a tag line like that but can’t increase anyone’s confidence in his grasp of issues.

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Perry asked another question where he’d have to list three things. Finally remembers the third agency he’d cut: Dept. of Energy. I don’t think the employees there are worried. Department of Energy is going to be the punchline to a lot of jokes in the years to come.

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Gingrich gives us the historical perspective on student loans. Another good moment for him.

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Ron Paul says student loans are a failure. By the way, broad camera shot shows that Perry is still on stage. Think he’d like to be somewhere else?

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The candidates are talking about social security and the trust fund. But everyone watching has to be still thinking about Perry’s onstage meltdown. A memorable moment in the history of American political debates. It will be replayed as long as video exists. His well-financed campaign staff is going to have a hard time explaining that. But chances are they’re already e-mailing out resumes as we speak.

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Herman Cain is getting warmed up again. After that nasty defense against sexual harassment accusers, he seems to have recovered his buoyant spirit. Say what you will about him but he’s quite the performer.

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Perry says the problem isn’t partisanship. Good moment. But then he forgets which government agencies he wants to get rid of. Awful, awkward moment. If that doesn’t kill his candidacy, nothing will.

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Romney looks queasy when reminded that he worked with Ted Kennedy on healthcare. But then says the problem with partisanship is that instead of leadership all we have is a president solely focused on re-election.

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Caterillar CEO says he doesn’t like partisanship. Not sure about that but we love those machines that knock down houses that shelter Palestinian terrorist tunnels.

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Halfway through the debate the one clear result is that Rick Perry seems more irrelevant than ever.

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First stumble for Romney when asked about the role of states in health care. That’s still his Achilles’ heel. But he quickly shifts back to bashing Obamacare and recovers his cool. And he reassures us he’s not going to get rid of Medicare.

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By now it’s clear. All Republicans believe in the market.

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Health care in 30 seconds? Republicans stay on message on private accounts with even Mitt agreeing with Ron Paul. Gingrich won’t bite and instead attacks moderator for asking stupid question. Good point. Promises Lincoln-Douglas debate with Obama with no moderator. Well, at least none of these CNBC moderators would be an improvement.

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Huntsman  lectures the candidates about the pain of those suffering from the bad economy. But like everything else he says, nobody cares. Then says banks should be charged more fees. Sounds like more pain for their customers.

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Gingrich says don’t blame my consulting for Fannie and Freddie. They didn’t listen to me. They weren’t the only ones.

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Bachmann puts some zing into the GOP line about housing: Fannie and Freddie execs get bonuses. That’s real crony capitalism.

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Perry starts his answer with the usual paean to Texas. Wants all government regulations to be audited for job creation.

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Romney: Government can’t go out and buy all the houses to keep the prices from crashing.

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Question about housing prompts Gingrich’s usual Dodd-Frank bashing. He’s right of course. The government can’t fix the housing crisis. Romney responds by agreeing that we must let the markets work. Says the right course is to do the exact opposite of everything Obama has done.

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At the first break. So far Herman Cain is playing to the crowd and doing well smearing those that he claims smeared him. Romney took shots from the moderators but not his opponents but stayed cool and remained on message. And as we have seen in every one of these debates, Gingrich thrives when he can bash the press and wax philosophical.

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Bachmann says freedom isn’t free. She’s right but it’s a better argument to be used against defense cuts than in favor of a flat tax.

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Why no flat tax for Mitt? He says Obama has failed the middle class and prefers breaks for them, flat tax later. Yes, he’s the one who’s looking toward the general election.

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Cain is asked for a rationale for junking progressive taxation. Presented with an opportunity to give his philosophy, he goes into his normal “bold” 9-9-9 schtick. But gets big applause for saying tax codes don’t raise taxes, politicians do. Kind of like criminals, murder and guns.

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Gingrich says the reason the corporation-hating Occupy crowd and liberal economists don’t understand history. Excellent point. Also blasts the media for not asking the OWS demonstrators who will pay for the park if there are no profits. Good moment for Newt.

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Jim Cramer yells a quote of Milton Friedman. Mitt says you don’t have to choose between profits and the people. Mitt gets excited when he talks about the beauty of profit. Says Obama and the Dems like jobs but not the businesses that create them.

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Romney won’t bite at question about whether he would keep on Cain as CEO if he took over his company because of charges against him. Says Cain and the people will have to deal with this, not him.

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Great lead in to question about Cain’s harassment charges. No company would hire a CEO with character charges hanging over him. He answers that he is innocent and that his character is unblemished. Cheers show some of his supporters think all the women are lying and he’s telling the truth.

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Michele Bachmann wins the pool for the person who picked her to make the first mention of immigration. Rick Santorum is the first to mention Obamacare.

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Gingrich leads off with a favorite hobby horse. Fire Ben Bernanke. Then goes back to the group message that Obama’s debt is killing the country.

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Perry offered an opportunity to attack Romney as a flip-flopper. He doesn’t bite. Instead, he goes back to the no bailout of Italy theme. I guess this is the new positive Perry not the rabid attack dog of the last debate.

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Romney says 42-year-marriage and lifelong Mormonism shows he’s not a flip-flopper.

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Romney called out by moderator for flip-flopping on auto industry bailout. Romney stands his ground again saying managed bankruptcy from the start would have been better than the bailout and says the government gave away companies to the UAW and Fiat.

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So all of the Republicans asked about Italy won’t admit that a default there will affect us here. All blame it on debt and Obama. Everyone stays on message.

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Jim Cramer yells at Huntsman. Huntsman looks like he’s thinking of a joke but knows he shouldn’t say it.

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Jim Cramer can yell all he likes. Ron Paul doesn’t care.

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Herman Cain’s answer is about growth. Let Italy fail. We can’t help them. Mitt Romney says Europe can take care of itself. And don’t bail out U.S. banks with Italian debt. Applause line.

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Dow Jones drop by 400 points due to the Italian collapse is the first question.

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Sounds like hometown boy Mitt Romney and Herman Cain got the most cheers during the introductions.

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The CNBC preview once again has the feel of an NFL pregame show. Is it really Occupy Wall Street versus the GOP?



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