Kevin Drum

Cruz, Fiorina Are Big Winners In First Post-Debate Poll

| Sun Aug. 9, 2015 6:38 PM EDT

A new NBC poll has gotten a lot of attention today for suggesting that Donald Trump won the Republican debate on Thursday. And maybe he did! But I'd take the results with a grain of salt. Here's why:

  • As the chart on the right shows, Trump's support didn't increase. It stayed where it was. The big gainers were Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson.
  • It was an overnight poll. So it might reflect what viewers thought of the debate itself, but it doesn't take account of the weekend fallout over Trump's post-debate treatment of Megyn Kelly. Nor does it take into account the media treatment of Trump over the past few days. This may or may not make a difference, but I'd wait a few days to see how things play out.
  • It's an internet poll, not a telephone poll. The methodology is fairly sound, but it's nonetheless another reason to treat the results with caution.

I'm not foolish enough to predict what's going to happen to Trump's poll numbers over the next week. I feel safe saying that Trump will implode eventually, and that he'll implode over something like this weekend's lunacy. But whether it will happen over this weekend's version of this weekend's lunacy—well, who knows? The base of the Republican Party is pretty inscrutable to a mushy mainstream liberal like me. I'm really not sure what will and won't set them off these days.

As for the rest of the results, I'm stumped over Ted Cruz's gain. He didn't seem to especially stand out on Thursday. Conversely, Fiorina is easy to understand, and Carson's bump might just be due to increased name recognition. Bush and Walker dropped a little more than I would have guessed, but 3 percent still isn't much. We'll see if all these results hold up over the next week.

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Donald Trump Has Finally Catapulted Us Into an Alternate Universe

| Sat Aug. 8, 2015 9:55 PM EDT

The Donald Trump saga continues its trip into Bizarroland today with the exit of Roger Stone from the Trump campaign. Trump claims he fired Stone, while Stone says he resigned—and he has the resignation letter to prove it. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm guessing Stone is the more believable party here. So why did Stone leave?

In the letter, which was obtained by The Post, Stone expressed regret for the end of a “close relationship — both personal and political/professional — since the 1980s.” But, he added, since “current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message ... I can no longer remain involved in your campaign.”

Not all of you are familiar with the Stone oeuvre, so how can I put this? Roger Stone complaining that Trump has become too vitriolic and combative is like the Kardashian family getting on your case for being too much of a publicity hound. It's like Dick Cheney advising you that you're banging the war drums too loudly. It's like Louis XIV telling you to cool it with the mansion building.

Roger Stone is famous for calling himself a "GOP hit man." He admires Richard Nixon so much he has Nixon's face tattooed on his back. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he founded an anti-Hillary group called Citizens United Not Timid. He played a bit part in the Watergate scandal at the age of 19. He is famous for his many rules, one of which is "Attack, attack, attack—never defend."

This is the guy who left the Trump campaign because Trump was too preoccupied with "provocative media fights." The same guy who has proudly called his brand of politics "performance art" can no longer stomach the performance art that is the Trump campaign.

So this is where we are. On Friday, Erick Erickson criticized Trump for being sexist. Today, Roger Stone quit Trump's campaign because he was being too combative. We are now officially living in an alternate universe. Mr. Spock finally has his beard.

Will Wherevergate Finally Sink Donald Trump?

| Sat Aug. 8, 2015 12:57 PM EDT

Our story so far: In Thursday's debate, Fox host Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump why he was so fond of insulting women. Trump answered that he had just been kidding around. "I don't frankly have time for total political correctness," he said. "And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."

That didn't go over too well, but Trump seemed like he'd probably survive it. Unfortunately, Trump being Trump, he couldn't leave bad enough alone. In the spin room after the debate he started attacking Kelly and boo-hooing about how she had treated him worse than the other candidates. Then, showing the restraint he's famous for, he followed this up with a series of increasingly unhinged tweets about Kelly throughout the night and into the early morning. Finally, during a CNN interview on Friday night, he said this:

You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her....wherever.

Let's call it Wherevergate. This was a pretty obvious allusion to Kelly being unable to control her anger because she was having her period. Then things got weird.

(That's right. Things weren't really weird yet. So far this is all pretty normal in Trumpland.)

Anyway, Erick Erickson—tea party activist extraordinaire and founder of the influential RedState blog—got wind of Trump's "wherever" comment and decided he was unhappy about it. Now, this is weird, because Erickson is not exactly famous for either his restraint or his sympathy for women's tender feelings. He once called retiring Supreme Court justice David Souter a "goat fucking child molester"; called Michelle Obama a "Marxist harpy wife"; and lashed out at feminists during the 2008 campaign by calling a statement from the New York chapter of NOW the "latest salvo fired from the thighs of ugly nags."

In other words, Erickson is not the shy and retiring type. But he eventually apologized for those comments and apparently decided to turn over a new leaf. "I've definitely had to grow up over time," he told Howard Kurtz in 2010. So when he heard Trump's remark about Kelly, he decided enough was enough. If he was going to grow up, then by God, everyone had to grow up. Trump hadn't, so Erickson called up Trump's campaign manager late on Friday and disinvited Trump from this weekend's big RedState shindig in Atlanta. "I think there is a line of decency that even a non-professional politician can cross," he told the Washington Post. "Suggesting that a female journalist asking you a hostile question is hormone related, I think, is one of those lines."

Needless to say, The Donald didn't take this lying down. Erickson's decision, he said, was "another example of weakness through being politically correct....Blame Erick Erickson, your weak and pathetic leader." Was that enough? Of course not. "Not only is Erick a total loser," he said in a statement released Saturday, "he has a history of supporting establishment losers in failed campaigns so it is an honor to be disinvited from his event."

Oh, and his "wherever" comment? Trump said he was referring to Kelly's nose. "Only a deviant would think anything else."

Roger that. So far, Erickson's acolytes are apparently divided about the whole thing. Some are glad to see Trump's back, others think Erickson has fallen into the pit of lefty political correctness. Stay tuned for more.

In any case, after all the inflammatory stuff Trump has said over the past couple of months, this appears to be the comment that's finally going to cause him some real trouble. Go figure. Carly Fiorina immediately tweeted, "Mr Trump: There. Is. No. Excuse." Lindsey Graham criticized Trump too, while other Republican candidates were more circumspect. So far, anyway. But I suspect this will turn into a feeding frenzy before long. Republicans are still spooked about the whole War on Women thing, and they're none too happy about Trump taking on a Fox News host either. I think we can expect the Sunday talk shows this week to be all Trump all the time.

So that's that, though I'm sure this post will be out of date almost as soon as I publish it. I just thought you'd all like to know what had happened while you were snoozing away the weekend.

Friday Cat Blogging - 7 August 2015

| Fri Aug. 7, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

As promised, Hilbert and Hopper are taking the week off. So meet Tatiana, recently adopted by my sister's friend Pat. She goes by Tati and she's about a year old. Her collar features a skull-and-crossbones motif, but its fierceness is undermined by the hearts at the end of the bones and the flowers in between each skull. Plus it's pink. Bluebeard would be rolling in his grave. But I'm informed that this is a fashion statement, and who am I to argue?

In any case, Tati doesn't seem especially fierce—though I gather that a couple of catnip mice have recently met their match. She is also considerably more energetic than Pat's beloved old cat, who passed away recently. I can sympathize with that: we've got two of the tireless little furballs. They'll be back next Friday.

Schumer's Opposition Is Good News for the Iran Deal

| Fri Aug. 7, 2015 1:03 PM EDT

In other news, Chuck Schumer announced yesterday that he would oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Since Schumer is a longtime friend of Israel and an influential guy among Democrats, this is seen as a big deal. But I don't think it is. Here's why:

  • He announced just as Congress was going into recess.
  • This means he has a good excuse for not twisting arms over the next few weeks, but can still meet with donors and voters without having lots of awkward discussions about why he hasn't come out against the deal.
  • He also waited until Democratic support for the deal was nearly airtight. At this point, Schumer would have to persuade virtually every undecided Dem to vote No in order to kill the deal.
  • And just for good measure, he made a low-key announcement on the same day that the big Republican debate dominated the news cycle.

To me, this has the smell of someone who wants to oppose the deal, but doesn't really want to kill it. Schumer will go through the motions when Congress reconvenes, but I suspect he won't be trying all that hard to undermine support for a deal negotiated by his party's president. Far from taking this as bad news, I'd say it's a very good sign that the Iran deal will survive when it goes to Congress.

Will the Economy Help Democrats or Republicans More Next Year?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2015 12:41 PM EDT

Paul Krugman notes that there wasn't much talk about the economy in last night's debate. Why not?

The chart shows private-sector job gains after two recessions — the 2001 recession, and the 2007-2009 Great Recession — ended, in thousands. You can argue that the economy should have bounced back more strongly from the deeper slump; on the other hand, 2008 was a huge financial crisis, which tends to leave a bad hangover.

....Now, am I claiming that Obama caused all that job creation? No — policy was pretty much hamstrung from 2010 on....Recovery should have been much faster, and I believe that there is still more slack than the unemployment rate suggests. But if President Romney were presiding over this economy, Republicans would be hailing it as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, they’re trying to talk about something else.

How is the economy going to play in the 2016 campaign? It's a bit of a mystery at two different levels:

  • There's the poli-sci model level, where the state of the economy is a background factor that affects the vote. A good economy helps the party in power, a bad economy helps the party out of power. Right now, though, the economy is in the middle: not bad, but not great. Next year, when we start plugging numbers into the models, they're probably going to show a tight race.
  • Then there's the campaign level, where candidates actively offer economic proposals (and criticisms) that they think will resonate with voters. Hillary Clinton will have a hard time here, since "it could have been worse" is not a winning slogan. Nor is "Republicans would be crowing if they had done it." But it's going to be hard to brag on the economy when it's only in modestly good shape.

If Jeb Bush is the nominee, he'll be blathering about 4 percent growth and claiming that anyone who says that's impossible is just a defeatist who's given up on America. Unfortunately, a lot of voters will probably believe him, because voters generally believe anything a candidate says. And Hillary won't be able to fight back much, since it really would make her look like a defeatist. Luckily, "4 percent growth" is a fairly abstract concept to most people, and probably isn't a great campaign slogan in the first place.

In the end, I suspect the economy will be in one of those middle states where it's just not that big a deal in the campaign and won't help either candidate much. Instead, the big campaign issues are going to be more specific: stuff like Obamacare, Common Core, ISIS, Clinton/Bush Derangement Syndrome, etc. Unless something big happens over the next 12 months, it's going to be one of those grind-it-out campaigns based on small-ball issues, foreign policy, and GOTV mechanics. Lotsa fun, no?

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Rubio, Fiorina Declared Winners of Last Night's Media Bowl

| Fri Aug. 7, 2015 11:47 AM EDT

I didn't get a chance to hear any of the post-game commentary after last night's debate. After blogging continuously since 2 pm (Pacific time) I just collapsed in the living room with the pizza Marian had gotten and watched whatever it was she had on TV. So I never got a chance to see who had been anointed the winner.

This morning I see that apparently the answer is Marco Rubio, which makes Marian two for two picking winners. Maybe she should be the one writing this blog. Ed Kilgore had about the same reaction to this that I did:

As for the "winners" and "losers" bit, there's no question Carly Fiorina is being deliberately promoted to the Big Stage where GOPers wanted her all along to supply low-gender-politics-risk attacks on Hillary Clinton. I watched her yesterday and saw a former CEO used to doing power-point presentations for stockholders doing her standard speech, amplified by a very lucky question she got about Donald Trump. And for all the (justified) talk about the Fox moderators being tough on candidates, nobody's asking Fiorina the obvious question about her extremely limited qualifications for the presidency.

....I'm also a bit mystified by all the wild praise today for Marco Rubio, but maybe I've just seen his earnest Second-Generation-American routine one time too many to be impressed any more. He got reasonably lucky in his questioning; the only heat he drew was over his alleged support for a rape exception to an abortion ban; he denied it, and used the question to position himself as a real RTL ultra, which is apparently what he wanted to do.

Yeah, my sense is that both Fiorina and Rubio did fine, and since no one else did spectacularly, maybe that's enough to make them winners. But big winners? I don't see it either.

Interestingly, I also see this morning that the commentariat is quickly converging around the idea that Fox News manipulated the debate pretty blatantly. The GOP wanted Fiorina on the main stage because they wanted a woman there, and Fox obliged by giving her easy questions and then praising her to the skies after the debate was over. Likewise, the GOP really wants Trump gone, and Fox obliged by asking him lots of awkward questions. Trump himself certainly played along, claiming afterward that he had been ambushed and treated badly by the moderators, especially Megyn Kelly.

Maybe. I didn't notice Fiorina getting off any easier than the other candidates, but I did notice the over-the-top effusive praise she received in the post-game shows on Fox. Something sure seemed to be going on there. Fiorina wasn't that good.

As for Trump, I think he was bound to have trouble in a debate forum, where he has less opportunity to duck questions he doesn't want to answer. Also, as I said last night, his schtick gets old when you see it over and over in the space of two hours. If, at some point, you don't seem to take any of the questions seriously, even your supporters are going to start thinking that maybe you don't belong in the White House.

In any case, this seems to be a pretty good example of the media having a bigger impact than the debates themselves. Fiorina and Rubio were the winners of last night's media bowl and Trump was the loser. In the future, everyone will know to stay on Megyn Kelly's good side.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in July

| Fri Aug. 7, 2015 11:02 AM EDT

The American economy added 215,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at 125,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.3 percent.

Unlike last month, which had a similar top line jobs number, this is a decent jobs report. There was no big exodus from the labor force and no big drop in the labor force participation rate. The number of employed workers went up by 101,000, the number of unemployed went down by 33,000, and the participation rate stayed steady. Nearly the entire gain in employment was from the private sector.

So....not too bad. As with most recent economic reports, it doesn't suggest things are booming, but it does suggest that we're plodding along. For what it's worth, that's better than Europe or China can say.

Debate Liveblogging: The First GOP Presidential Debate of 2015

| Thu Aug. 6, 2015 8:59 PM EDT

WRAP-UP: Marian, who seems to be more in touch with the common man than I am, thinks Rubio was the winner tonight. He seemed fine to me: plenty conservative, but also serious and wonkish. But the big winner? I'm not sure.

So who was? I don't think there was a big breakout. But I do think there were two losers. First, Donald Trump. His schtick might be entertaining in small doses, but when you hear it repeatedly in response to question after question, it just seems juvenile. This was just not a good format for his brand of performance art.

The second loser was Walker. Not because he made any big mistakes, but because he didn't really do anything to break out, and he needed to. This is not a huge deal: I don't think he did himself any real harm, and there are plenty more debates to come. But he needs to up his game.

Jeb Bush was very presidential sounding, but mostly treaded water. For him, though, this isn't so bad. Unlike Walker, I don't think he really had to do any more than that.

Tonally, this debate was like night and day compared to the earlier debate. There was plenty of skirmishing, plenty of barbs, and much more energy. The actual substantive disagreements—Rand Paul aside—were pretty slight, but the candidates made the most of them.

There weren't a whole lot of memorable zingers. Even Trump seemed off his game, even defensive at times (when he was asked about his contributions to Hillary Clinton, for example). Walker had his bit about Hillary's email server, but it sounded too robotic to draw blood. Still, I'm sure it will get plenty of cable news air time, since there wasn't a lot of competition. Mostly, I suspect the bits that will be on a 24/7 loop are the direct arguments between the candidates.

Summary: Trump and Walker probably lost a little ground. Maybe Christie too. Rubio gained a bit of ground. Bush stayed even. The rest probably will stay about where they are, which is so low that it hardly matters if they gained or lost a percentage point.

Prediction: Someone will drop off the top ten, and Carly Fiorina will be on the big stage next time. Personally, I think she did well, but not great. (Maybe because I live in California and remember her Senate run in 2010.) But the media seems to have decided very quickly that she did superbly. That will be enough to give her a bump in the polls.

Debate transcript here.


First off, I want to apologize if anyone gets seasick from the graphic at the top of this post. Sometimes politics requires sacrifices, I'm afraid. And I have to look at it too.

10:56 - Carson: "It's time to move beyond" talking about race. Huge applause.

10:54 - Megyn Kelly is asking about God. But someone apparently came up during the commercial break to ask about veterans. So now she asks Rubio what he thinks about God and veterans. Kinda falling off the rails here.

10:52 - Kasich: "I do believe in miracles." He'd better.

10:41 - Walker on recent cyberattacks: "It's sad to think about, but probably the Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton's email server than do the members of the United States Congress." Zing! It got good applause, but wasn't that a little too obviously a preplanned zinger?

10:37 - An Iranian general visited Russia. What would Trump do in response? No answer, but it would be totally different from what Obama is doing. BTW: the part of the Iran deal that Trump doesn't like involves 24-day notice for inspections. Trump twice called it 24-hour.

10:35 - Walker gives a total non-answer about #BlackLivesMatter and civil rights.

10:32 - Kasich gets a surprising amount of applause when he gives a fairly tolerant answer about gay marriage.

10:31 - Trump's defense of his big mouth: People's heads are getting cut off. We don't have time to be nice.

10:30 - I guess this debate is going two hours, not 90 minutes. Crap.

10:29 - Megyn Kelly asks Trump, "When did you actually become a Republican?" Trump says he has evolved. "You know who else evolved? Ronald Reagan." Well, true enough.

10:26 - Rubio says he has never advocated a rape or incest exception to a ban on abortion. Is this true?

10:24 - Huckabee says "Iran got everything, we got nothing" from the Iran deal. With the exception of stopping Iran's nuclear program for at least a decade, I suppose that's true.

10:20 - Walker: We need to kill the Iran deal, put in place even more crippling sanctions, and then persuade our allies to go along. And how will we manage that? Crickets.

10:16 - Trump: Only four out of hundreds of his companies have gone bankrupt. So there. By the way, "this country, right now, owes $19 trillion, and they need someone like me to straighten out that mess." Big applause. Crikey.

10:12 - Huckabee says his consumption tax is great because it will tax "illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers," who are all freeloading off the system right now. Um....

10:11 - Christie: "I'm the only guy on this stage who's put out a 12-point plan on entitlements." Unsurprisingly, this got no applause. I guess 12-point plans aren't what they used to be.

10:10 - Walker has exactly the same economic plan as Bush!

10:07 - How will Bush get 4% growth? Answer: lift our spirits, fix the tax code, get rid of regulations, repeal Obamacare, build the XL pipeline, fix the immigration system.

10:05 - Carson plays the Alinsky card on Hillary.

10:04 - Ben Carson doesn't think Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. I wonder who he's betting on?

9:51 - Trump says he gives money to lots of politicians because he gets favors in return. "I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them and they are there for me." So how about Hillary Clinton? What did he get from her? "I said, be at my wedding, and she came to my wedding. And you know why? Because she had no choice." Ha ha ha. I wonder how long it takes before this routine gets old even with his supporters?

9:50 - Trump is asked why he supported single-payer health care 15 years ago but doesn't anymore. He says it's because 15 years ago was a different era. Huh? Word salad follows.

9:49 - Asked about health care, Trump says he was against the Iraq war. Okey dokey.

9:47 - Carson: "Carson doesn't believe in fighting stupid wars." Apparently this means he's in favor of waterboarding.

9:45 - Bush: "We need to take out ISIS with every tool in our arsenal." That's all the detail we get from Bush.

9:41 - Cruz: "We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorists as long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words 'radical Islamic terrorists.' " Yeesh. Apparently the way to defeat ISIS is to have a president who makes clear that joining ISIS amounts to signing your own death warrant. That's all the detail we get about defeating ISIS.

9:37 - Chris Christie wants more surveillance, not less. Rand Paul supports the Bill of Rights. Christie: "When you're sitting in a subcommittee blowing hot air, you can say anything you want."  Paul: "I don't trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug. If you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead." Christie: "The hugs I remember are the hugs I got after 9/11." Megyn Kelly finally steps in and breaks up the fight.

9:36 - Well, everyone is opposed to illegal immigration.

9:31 - No one really wants to criticize Trump for saying illegal immigration is all due to the fact that our government is stupid.

9:26 - Chris Wallace wants to know if Trump has any specific evidence that the Mexican government is sending criminals over? Trump says that "border patrol people that I deal with, that I talk to, they say this is what's happening, because our leaders are stupid." The Mexican government is much more cunning than ours. "That's what's happening whether you like it or not."

9:25 -Trump seems to think that Republicans didn't really care about illegal immigration until he came along. Um....

9:20 - Rand Paul: "We didn't create ISIS. ISIS created ISIS." Roger that. Then Paul suggests that the way to beat ISIS is to stop funding their allies. I'm not sure what he was getting at with that.

9:18 - Huckabee thinks the next president should just ignore the Supreme Court and ban abortion. Again, huh?

9:17 - Scott Walker defends his opposition to a life-of-the-mother exception for abortion because there are always ways to protect the mother. "That's been proven." Huh?

9:11 - Megyn Kelly wants to know why Trump insults women so much. Trump is Trump in response. He's kidding! He's having fun. America's problem is too much political correctness. That's ridiculous when America is losing to everyone—everyone!—and needs to be made great again. If you don't like it, tough.

9:09 - Rubio: "How is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck."

9:06 - Rand Paul barges in to attack Trump. "He's hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians."

9:04 - First question: a handraising question. Is anyone unwilling to pledge to support the eventual nominee? Only Trump raises his hand. He's not willing to make the pledge unless he's the nominee.

8:55 - To my surprise, Carly Fiorina has been anointed the big winner of the happy hour debate. I can see the case for her being the winner by a bit—she was competent and on message and made no mistakes—but not by a landslide. But apparently the punditocracy has spoken. Fiorina is ready for the big show.

"Happy Hour" Debate: Kinda Dull, I'm Afraid

| Thu Aug. 6, 2015 7:24 PM EDT

I just finished watching the "happy hour" GOP debate—this being the name everyone has settled on as more entertaining than "the early debate" and less insulting than "kiddy table"—and it was....kinda dull. The hosts went efficiently from candidate to candidate, and they all gave their little speeches and stayed within their time limits. Nobody argued. Nobody really had any differences of opinion. It was all very polite.

So did anyone stand out? Not to me. If you're looking for hawkish rhetoric, Lindsey Graham was clearly your man. If you like canned applause lines delivered competently, Carly Fiorina might be the evening's winner. Aside from that, it's hard to say that anyone did especially well or especially badly. However, I took notes at random, and here's what I have for each candidate.

Rick Perry continued to be a gaffe machine. Asked about the Iran deal, he said, "$150 billion is fixin' to go to a country that killed our Marines in Lebanon, that, uh, used their weapons to kill our young men in Iran." I suppose he meant Iraq, right? Later he talked about his economic record in Texas over "the past eight years." But ol' Rick was governor for 14 years. And in his closing statement, he said, "As someone who's worn the uniform of this country, that's how we build our military back up." Huh?

Earlier, I was struck by his answer on immigration: "Americans are tired of hearing 'What are you going to do about illegal immigration?' " That's not a gaffe, really, but it's certainly a strange way to avoid answering a question. He basically went on to say that he had lots of border experience, and that's what counts.

However, Perry also had the best line of the night—though the bar was pretty low for that. Asked for two words to describe Hillary Clinton, he answered, "Let's go with three: Good at email."

Lindsey Graham, as noted, was the most hawkish. Asked about ISIS, he hauled out the oldest chestnut of them all: "If we don't stop them over there, they're coming here just as sure as I stand here in front of you." Asked about Planned Parenthood, he said, "You want to see a war on women, just go to Iraq and Afghanistan." Asked about the economy, he talked about sending troops back to the Middle East and just generally kicking some major ass over there. He ended a rant against Hillary Clinton with, "If I have to monitor a mosque, I'll monitor a mosque. She won't."

He also brought out some nostalgic, old-time Clinton bashing, straight from the 90s: "I'm fluent in Clinton-speak. I've been dealing with this crowd for 20 years....When Hillary Clinton tells you 'I've given you all the emails you need,' that means she hasn't."

Carly Fiorina was the first to take a shot at Donald Trump: "I didn't get a call from Bill Clinton." And speaking of telephone calls, she later said her first phone call from the Oval Office would be to "my good friend Bibi Netanyahu." Booyah!

These were typical. Fiorina was very good at spouting standard GOP crowd pleasers, but I can't remember her saying anything memorable. She delivered her lines well, but in the end, they mostly just seemed like lines.

Of course, delivering GOP applause lines well and not making any mistakes might be enough to make her the winner of the debate. It's a GOP debate, after all. The fact that I wasn't super impressed doesn't mean that a conservative audience won't be.

Rick Santorum told everyone about his new 20-20 economic plan, which features a 20 percent flat-rate tax. "It will create a manufacturing juggernaut." Sure it will, Rick. And what does the other 20 stand for? He never told us.

He also insisted that we need work requirements and time limits not just for welfare, but for food stamps, Medicaid, and housing programs. I'm not sure if this is news or not. Has anyone else called for work requirements for Medicaid?

Bobby Jindal was reliably apocalyptic, that being his latest persona. (He ditched the "boy wonk" thing years ago.) About Obama and Hillary Clinton: "They're working hard to change the American dream into the European nightmare. They do celebrate more dependence on the government." He also promised not just to investigate Planned Parenthood if he wins, but to sic the IRS on them. I'm pretty sure he's crossing a line there. He might want to check with his shadow Attorney General before saying that again.

On the Middle East, he had nothing to offer except the tired refrain that Obama can't possibly defeat our enemies because he's afraid to even call them by their right name. Jindal, by contrast, would have the stones to call them radical Islamist terrorists. How all this naming business would make even the tiniest difference on the ground remains a mystery.

Jim Gilmore and George Pataki apparently said nothing memorable enough for me to write down. Sorry guys! Pataki repeatedly mentioned that he was governor during 9/11, and Gilmore repeatedly checked off his resume for us. I don't remember much else.

Executive orders are one of the GOP's big grievances against President Obama, so all seven candidates were asked what their first executive order would be. Here are the answers from narrowest to most heroic:

Graham: the Mexico City policy on funding abortions. This gets changed every single time the White House changes parties, so it hardly counts for much. He also said he'd put the NSA back in business post haste. Surveillance for all!

Perry: revoking the Iran deal.

Jindal: revoking Obama's immigration order, plus a laundry list of other Obama stuff he doesn't like.

Gilmore: What's first doesn't matter. He would look at all of Obama's executive orders and figure out which ones we don't need.

Santorum: "Suspend and repeal every executive order, every regulation, that costs Americans jobs."

Fiorina: Begin by undoing all of Obama's executive orders.

Pataki: Revoke every one of Obama's executive orders.

Something tells me these folks aren't really aware of how most executive orders work. Some of them really can be revoked with the stroke of a pen, but a lot of them are actually agency regulations that go through a long, long process before they get approved. If you want to revoke those, you have to go through the same process in reverse. It's not going to happen on the first day.