2:50 P.M. I'll be live-blogging during tonight's final, inevitably disgusting debate. I've bought a new thesaurus for the occasion. Check back here at 9 PM...
8:15 P.M. Anyone up for a drinking game -- a shot every time John King uses the phrase "credibility threshold"?
8:56 This thing has turned so completely into sports coverage... on CNN they're talking about the coin toss and the importance of the last two minutes. I may just do a quick mention of every sports metaphor I hear tonight. Some reporter is mentioning Romney's "wheelhouse" as I type this.
9:01 God, they're even in uniform. Blue tie for the blue-state candidate, red tie for the Republican.
9:03 Switching from CNN to CBS because I'm so offended by the "dial survey" approval bar measuring the reactions of undecided voters. Again, the efforts to turn this into a sportscast have gone way too far.
9:08 Obama was much more composed in his first answer than Romney. Amazing to hear a Republican talk about how we "can't kill our way" to progress.
9:14 Fifteen minutes into the debate, it's already devolved into loud name-calling and wild, incoherent claims of flip-floppery from both sides. Both candidates seem to be losers so far.
9:17 The game in this debate is going to depend upon Obama convincing viewers that he cleaned up Bush's mess by rebuilding coalitions that had collapsed after the Iraq episode. It's odd that Obama hasn't made this point more clearly, and hasn't tried to tie Romney to Bush's policies more closely.
9:19 Romney channeling Boris Karloff in Frankenstein: "Syria - friend!"
9:22 Ron Paul should sue Romney for trademark infringement. This whole isolationist, "I don't want to use the military" thing coming from a Republican nominee -- you can probably chalk that up to the success of Paul's foreign policy rhetoric in primary season. Can you imagine a Republican promising to avoid the use of military force in the Bush years?
Romney is outsmarting himself. He re-seized momentum from Obama in the first debate by completely recasting himself as Casper, your friendly neighborhood centrist. That worked so well that he must have decided he could bite off even more of the undecideds by coming into the foreign policy debate and running as the corporate-raider version of John Lennon or Benjamin Spock. I think his plan was to come in and be Dick Nixon in 1968, running as the beatifically-smiling "peace candidate," but instead, all these contortions were finally a bridge too far -- he came across like one of those terrified-of-aging Hollywood types whose face finally sloughs off in public after too many eye jobs and neck lifts. It's going to be a hilarious, delicious pleasure watching conservative America bash Romney for coughing up the presidency by coming out as a closet hippie in the biggest night of his political career.
9:29 "What is America's role in the world?" It's not that it's a bad question -- in a vacuum, it's an interesting topic -- but in this debate forum, the moderator should want to stick to questions that prevent the candidates from whipping out canned, pre-programmed responses. Schaffer has mixed it up a little, but about half of the questions are outright softballs like this.
9:32 Obama is doing well, but I just don't get why he's avoiding mentioning Bush's name... Ok, whoops, he finally did it, invoking Cheney too. Finally. Interesting to see how Romney responds.
9:34 So tired of hearing Romney's five-point plan. "We've got to champion small business?" That's a policy plank? Why not add, "We've got to have more puppies and sunshine?"
Romney blew off the Bush reference. He's starting to look bad, by the way, like sweat is rolling down his back and he's trying not to show it. Romney is not normally a high sweat risk.
9:38 Finally, Obama smiles contemptuously at some of Romney's bullshit.
9:44 The "horses and bayonets" line will be this debate's exploding-Twitter moment, I bet -- at least it is so far.
9:47 Romney's presidential dream is going up in smoke before his eyes. He's confused, and this foreign-policy subject is exactly wrong for his shifting-sands rhetorical strategy of late: the candidate in this debate wants to project stoic consistency, and he's not doing that. On some questions he seems anxious to convince people that he'll use force quickly, and on other questions he seems to be trying to say exactly the opposite. It's rattling him and he's stammering more than usual.
9:59 Incredible that there have been no questions about drone attacks and/or Gitmo, or rendition. Apparently the decision has been made to completely skip the question of American human rights abuses abroad. Classic example of how issues where the two parties have consensus are invisible in the national discussion.
10:03 Romney can't resist haggling with Schaffer. Apologies for the sports metaphor, but his inability to stop working the refs is Kobe-esque.
10:11 "We have to do more than kill." So I've put my foot in my mouth here -- the drone question did come up, but, classically, the question isn't whether or not this is wrong, the question is which candidate would be more enthusiastic in his use of extralegal assassinations.
10:28 We should have done the drinking game with Romney and the 5.4% unemployment line.
10:30 "I think we all love teachers." Schaffer skillfully blasts Romney with the corrective fire-hose for his shameless and weirdly indiscriminate rhetorical baby-kissing.
10:33 Romney brought the torch metaphor home, but it was a shaky ride.
10:35 Just going by the reactions from Carville and Fleischer on CNN (I've switched back because that's where you go to find out the conventional wisdom) it's already clear what the talking points will be. Fleischer talking about how this debate doesn't matter because the public is focused on the economy, that's a clear signal that he knew Romney fucked the dog tonight. This should be the death-blow to Romney, but I've said that before and been wrong.
Thanks for coming by -- I will check in tomorrow to see with a note on the press reaction, but I think this is a pretty clear outcome.