LIVEBLOGGING: Girding Loins in Des Moines

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Because turnabout is fair play — the Rs come to Iowa, and Swampland follows. (GMA is actually playing in the filing center, now showing a segment about a swamp. I am taking this as a good omen.) Stay tuned.

8:02 AM George announces that the goal today is to get a “real debate” going. And in that spirit, he plays the controversial Brownback robo-call about Romney’s pro-choice past. “Real debate” is ABCese for “bloody, messy mud wrestling.”

8:03 AM Romney says the ad is not true, and describes it as “desperate or perhaps negative.” He’s gotten awards for being pro-life!

8:05 AM I believe this is called “cross talk,” most remarkable thing here is not Brownback and Romney scrapping, it’s that YouTube has entered the lingua franca of presidential politics. “You can look on the YouTube,” says Brownback. “Oh, that,” says Mitt.

8:06 AM “That was very early in the process,” says Romney. GS: “That was in March.” Romney: “Yes, March.” The filing center titters. Ages ago, March was…

8:07 AM Smattering of applause for Rudy saying that abortion should be a choice between “a woman and her conscience and, ultimately, her doctor.” Huh. Tommy Thompson now saying no pro-lifer could win the nom… His argument would be more forceful if he himself did not seem like a vaguely animated corpse.

8:09 AM McCain just connected “the rights of the unborn” to “national security.” He is broadcasting live from “crazy baseland.” He is also less than lively.

8:11 AM Faux YouTube q allows Paul to proclaim his strategy in Iraq. “Come home.” Some applause, some boos, Paul thundering. “This war is not going well,” he says, and I’m struck by how the most anti-war candidate on the GOP side is still a sunny optimist (or at least wildly subdued) compared to the angry declamations of the Ds yesterday.

8:13 AM Duncan Hunter is made that Democrats did not bother to thank Marines.

8:14 AM Huckabee continues to sound like someone who has a chance. Points out that “every time you go to the gas pump, you make the Saudi royal family a little richer.” Channeling Bill Maher!

8:15 AM Brownback invokes “Thomas Friedman” in support for a surge. I’ll let Atrios take that one.

8:16 AM McCain: “We are making progress and we are winning on the ground.” He’s showing a little more life, as he always does when discussion a doomed, violent struggle. Manages to cite heart-warming soccer celebration, which was very nice but is not unlike, say, bringing up a stroll through a marketplace to counter the death of thousands.

8:17 AM Rudy “Not a single candidate said ‘Islamic terrorism’ and that is taking political correctness too far.” O’Hanlan and Pollack name-checked, broad conservative comedy points made with a joke about not believing it was in the New York Times.

8:20 AM Romney has the best comedy writers. Says Obama, in his weird foreign policy journey of last week, went “from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove.” Funny, but delivered like it was told by someone new to the planet. Does Romney use contractions?

8:21 AM GS still hasn’t gotten an answer as to whether the front-runners share McCain’s position on Iraq. This is exactly why they are front-runners.

8:23 AM Robo-Thompson needs new batteries.

8:24 AM When Paul gets mad, his drawl gets strung out and high pitched. He sounds a little like Mae West. But he’s smaller. And madder.

8:25 AM McCain believes in the war in Iraq can be won, but his delivery suggests that he’s knows he can’t. “I’m going to be judged by history, not by public opinion polls.” Sadly, history doesn’t vote.

8:27 AM Nice line from Huckabee: give every American the same kind of health care that Congress has, or give Congress the same kind of health care most Americans have. Points out that our health care system focuses on disease, not wellness, catastrophic sickness, not prevention.

8:28 AM Robo-Thompson stalls out for a moment, a pause during which you can almost hear the gears clicking. He’s not as advanced as the Mitt model. He winds up agreeing with Huckabee on the disease/wellness model.

8:31 AM Mitt on insurance, personal choice, market, etc. But hates children. Sorry, hates children’s health care.

8:32 AM Rudy claims that the Grassley bill would make children “ward of the state,” a turn of phrase which calls to mind street urchins and begging for alms. Manages a gratuitous swipe at Michael Moore.

8:34 AM Health care discussion among some of the second tier. Summary: Markets rock! Socialism sucks.

8:36 AM Obama on Pakistan clip, GS presses Rudy on his statement that he would “take that option.” Nice moment when Rudy insists he didn’t say that and then GS reads it to him. Very Russert!

8:37 AM Mitt hammers on Obama, “he doesn’t know the difference between our friends and enemies,” and mocks the idea of attacking Pakistan… no, wait, mocks the idea of TALKING about it. He also states the general GOP stance on foreign policy in a nutshell:
“America always maintains our options to do whatever it is that is in the best interests of our country.” We just don’t let anyone know what that means.

8:40 AM Huckabee says the “job of our government isn’t to export our form of government… it’s to protect our citizens.” This is a wholesale rejection of the Bush Doctrine, pretty much, unless you mean the policy Bush was elected on rather than the one he governs by.

8:42 AM GS still trying to get Rudy to say what his Iraq policy is. Rudy giving a constitutional law lecture; manages to not cite any concrete event in Iraq but he does imply that he brought democracy to New York! Before he was mayor, “People were afraid to go out at night… people were afraid to to the movies or buy groceries.” Uhm, wow. Sure: New York in the early 90s was totally like Baghdad in 2007! Just with more porn and fewer suicide bombers.

8:46 AM Mitt: “I’m not a carbon copy of President Bush.” No, he’s not a carbon copy of anything, researchers have been tweaking him ever since he was developed in lab in 1992.

8:49 AM Political correctness apparently bad. When did this become a hot button issue again? What decade are we in now?

8:51 AM Bridge question. Huckabee flies commercial. “Better navigation systems in our cars than in our airlines,” which still doesn’t explain why driving is so much more dangerous but does explain why fewer drivers constantly circle their destinations before arriving.

8:52 AM Giuliani would like us to know that there are a lot of bridges in New York, which he was once the mayor of. He says he raised revenues without raising taxes. Infrastructure needs to be revamped but the money can’t come from taxes. Maybe the bridges can inspirational speeches.

8:55 AM I’d not slam pork so much here in Iowa if I were McCain.

[commercial break]

9:01 AM Another fake YouTube question, this one about the role of the veep. McCain says he’s been “considered several times for that role” so “I’ve thought a lot about it.” Gets off a great, relaxed line about how the VP has two duties: to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate and “inquire daily as to the health of the president.” He must have slammed a Red Bull during the break. He sums up seriously, saying that he’d give the VP a portfolio, but that he’d make sure “that everyone understands there’s only one president.” Snap.

9:03 AM Rudy defends Cheney!

9:04 AM Mitt reminds us that whatever Bush and Cheney have done, we are all still alive. “They have kept us safe.” Except for a Texas lawyer here and there, sure.

9:05 AM Ron Paul talks about neo-conservatives more than Markos Moulitsas.

9:06 AM GS asks about “the fair tax” (national sales tax). Huckabee loves it. Pimps will not be able to escape the tax code! (Making it, one assumes, even harder out there.) Mitt likes the fair tax but wouldn’t marry it or anything. Rudy: Eliminate the death tax. “You do not want to be on a respirator in 2010.” I think he means, “You do not want your parents to be on a respirator,” since dying people do wind up not being that effected by the “death tax.” Rudy is against national sales tax, says there’s a lot of questions about how it would actually be implemented.

9:11 AM Tancredo tweaks Rudy, if he’s gonna be anti-fair tax, “Then you should know how it works.”

9:13 AM Ooooh, email q: “Biggest defining mistake.”

Hunter: contemplating running as Democrat
Paul: I don’t speak forcefully enough for the cause of liberty.
Huckabee: Not taking good care of my health for the first half of my life.
Romney: Being deeply opposed to abortion but saying I supported the current law.
Rudy: A description of my mistakes in 30 seconds? [Nice.]
McCain: Deciding to back into combat, which led to getting shot down, which led to 5 1/2 years in a prison camp. Keating.
Brownback: Not telling my wife and kids I love them enough.
Thompson: Not being supportive enough of his wife, mother, and daughter with breast cancer.
Tancredo: Didn’t find Jesus quick enough.

9:17 AM What would you restore to the Oval Office?

Tancredo: Hope.
Thompson: He’d open up the East Wing. It’s closed?
Brownback: Family values.
McCain: I’m not sure how he got to this, but he winds up saying he’s against radical Islamic extremism. I think this would restore fear.
Rudy: Hope, also: Democracy, one assumes.
Romney: Strength. (A weight room, maybe?)
Huckabee: Would bring in a picture of the random Americans who are the “real boss.”
Paul: Openness.
Hunter: Hatred of China. (I lost the thread of his answer, actually.) Also, his kid wrote a really stilted-sounded letter upon coming back to Iraq.

9:24 AM Time flies when you’re typing constantly. To the spin room!