With the South Carolina primary just five days away, the five candidates remaining in the Republican presidential race are gathering in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for yet another debate. The International Business Times is live-blogging the event here and providing post-debate analysis later this evening.
The debate, sponsored by Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, is the first since New Hampshire held its primary last Tuesday, and the candidates' performances tonight have the potential to cement the current standings or to throw the race back up in the air.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who finished third in New Hampshire but had staked his long-shot campaign on a better showing, dropped out of the race Monday, leaving just five contenders: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Romney has led all recent polls of likely South Carolina primary voters, by margins ranging from 2 to 11 percentage points, but his opponents are hoping to bring him down with a barrage of attacks on his conservative credentials and, more specifically, on his actions as the former CEO of Bain Capital. Meanwhile, Paul and Santorum are hoping to capitalize on strong runner-up performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Gingrich and Perry are trying to salvage campaigns that have lost badly so far.
Check back for a live blog when the debate begins at 9 p.m.
10:52 p.m.: And that's all for tonight -- the debate is over. There will be another debate in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday. Check back later tonight and tomorrow morning for post-debate analysis.
10:51 p.m.: Gingrich says the No Child Left Behind Act has created a system in which teachers are teaching to tests and good schools look bad because they are being evaluated by misleading metrics. He says the solution is to drastically reduce the scope of the federal Department of Education and return educational jurisdiction to the states, and then to encourage the states to shrink their education departments and return power to county and municipal boards.
10:50 p.m.: Perry is asked whether, given that illegal border crossings are at a 40-year low, it would be wasteful to spend more money on border control. He responds that the only reason border crossings are at a 40-year low is that the U.S. economy is probably at a 40-year low, and he says it is false to say Americans don't want a secure border. The question, he says, is not about how much such security would cost, but rather how soon we can get it done. He promises to secure the border within a year of his inauguration.
10:47 p.m.: The conversation has turned away from abortion and devolved into Romney and Gingrich arguing about super PACs. Romney says that, while Gingrich criticizes his super PACs for running false ads, an ad run by a pro-Gingrich super PAC is probably the biggest hoax since Bigfoot. Romney adds, We'd all like to see super PACs disappear. ... Candidates should have the right to manage the ads being run on their behalf.
10:45 p.m.: Gingrich is asked about a Romney super PAC ad that accused him of supporting China's one-child policy. He responds that this is a prime example of falsehoods perpetrated by super PACs over which he [Romney] apparently has no influence, which makes you wonder how much influence he'd have as president.
10:43 p.m.: Paul says the jurisdiction on gun control laws should belong to the states, and he defends himself against attacks from Santorum: I'm the one that offers all the legislation to repeal the gun bans on automatic rifles and everything else, he says. That's a bit of an overstretch to say I've done away with the Second Amendment.
10:41 p.m.: Santorum, too, is challenged on his Second Amendment bona fides for supporting laws requiring trigger locks on handguns and background checks before people could purchase guns. He responds that those laws were supported by the National Rifle Association as a way to placate gun control supporters and thus avoid even more restrictive legislation. He also touts his A-plus rating from the NRA.
10:39 p.m.: Romney is challenged on his support for gun control as governor of Massachusetts. He says that when he took office, he inherited very strict gun control laws, but the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies in the state were able to agree on common-ground legislation. He affirms that he does believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and that as president, he would not support any new gun control laws.
10:34 p.m.: We're on our last commercial break. Up next, social issues.
10:33 p.m.: Gingrich continues to promote personal savings accounts and disputes Santorum's assertion that they are unaffordable. Having passed balanced federal budgets for four consecutive years as speaker of the House, he says to applause, I am reasonably confident I can find ways to balance the budget without hurting young people.
10:31 p.m.: Santorum says Romney's and Gingrich's economic plans are not bold and irresponsible. He says that as a senator, he was a strong supporter of untaxed, private retirement savings plans, but the idea of doing that now is fiscal insanity -- we just can't afford it. He also criticizes the other candidates for excluding current Social Security and Medicare recipients from their reform plans.
10:28 p.m.: Gingrich advocates an entitlement system modeled on Chile's, which he says would get the government out of the business of picking winners and losers, allow people more flexibility in when to retire and give everyone the opportunity to be an investor.
10:26 p.m.: Romney outlines his entitlement reform plans: repeal Obamacare, block-grant Medicaid funding to the states, make Medicare and Social Security optional, raise the retirement age and reduce benefits for high-income recipients.
10:24 p.m.: The line of questioning has changed to the housing market and the government's role, if any, in fixing it. Perry says he wants to walk into Washington, D.C., work toward a balanced budget amendment ... and try to pass a constitutional amendment to make Congress a part-time body, so they stay less time in Washington, D.C., go back home and get a real job like everyone else has, and live under the laws that they pass. A moderator says he didn't really answer the question as to what he would do to fix the housing market, and Perry responds that he would cut the taxes and cut the regulations, which will increase the jobs and people will have the income [to buy housing]. But, he adds, he doesn't support federal intervention beyond that, a la Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae: We don't need the federal government in the housing market anymore.
10:21 p.m.: Paul gets 30 seconds to respond on the NDAA, and he has harsh criticism for any denial of the constitutional right to a fair trial: Don't give up on our American judicial system so easily, I beg of you!
10:20 p.m.: Santorum is asked the same question -- whether he would have signed the NDAA as written -- and he responds that American citizens detained indefinitely as enemy combatants should have the right to go to a federal court and file a habeas corpus petition.
10:18 p.m.: Romney says he would have signed the National Defense Authorization Act, including the controversial indefinite-detention provision, because that's a necessary power to deal with terrorists on our own soil. He says that for all his faults, he doesn't think Obama will misuse the indefinite-detention power, and that he, Romney, wouldn't misuse it, either. People who join al-Qaida are not entitled to protections under our legal code, he says. They have to be treated as enemy combatants.
10:16 p.m.: Paul makes a point about the Taliban, and the distinction between it and al-Qaida: The Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. Al-Qaida wants to come here to kill us, but the Taliban just doesn't want foreigners. We have to understand that distinction, he says, if we're going to have any success in Afghanistan.
10:15 p.m.: The moderator points out that Perry seemed to want to make a point while Paul was talking. He responds snarkily, referring to Paul exceeding the time limit, I was just thinking the noise you were looking for was a gong.
10:13 p.m.: Perry is asked whether Turkey should still be a member of NATO. He says no, not if it's being ruled by someone who seems to be an Islamic terrorist. Then he highlights his proposal to zero out all foreign aid and completely re-evaluate who does and does not get aid, and he emphasizes how important it is for our allies, like Israel, to understand that we stand with them under any circumstances.
10:12 p.m.: The subject is now Israel and the threats it faces in the Middle East. Santorum says he would not support a unilateral U.S. intervention to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But, he adds, Syria and Assad are a threat to Israel, and so we should work in concert with the Arab League, work with others, to overthrow Assad.
10:10 p.m.: Romney is asked whether the U.S. should negotiate with the Taliban, and he says absolutely not. He goes back to the bin Laden question: Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. We go wherever they are and we kill them. The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received. He then turns to the subject of Iraq, and the fact that Obama announced in advance the date that the last U.S. troops would be withdrawn. You don't negotiate with your enemy from a position of weakness, he says. The American people have to realize that we're under attack, and we're going to have to take action around the world to protect ourselves. Hopefully, he says, that can be done as it was with bin Laden and not through all-out war, but the real solution is to develop a military so strong that no one would think of testing it. Loud applause.
10:08 p.m.: If another country does to us what we do to others, we're not going to like it very much, Paul says, suggesting a golden rule in foreign policy. Lots of boos from the audience. This country doesn't need another war. Now applause.
10:07 p.m.: Gingrich takes a more hawkish stance, saying there was no way that bin Laden could have been hiding in the compound where he was killed without the Pakistani government having known about it and being complicit.
10:05 p.m.: Paul continues his response to the bin Laden question, citing Saddam Hussein and Adolf Eichmann as examples of people who were captured and tried rather than killed like bin Laden was. If we hadn't killed bin Laden in Pakistan, he says, we might have been able to get more information from him.
10:03 p.m.: A viewer question blasts Paul for comments he made about the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, in which he indicated that the mission was a violation of international law and the sovereignty of Pakistan. Paul responds that he never said we shouldn't go after bin Laden; in fact, after 9/11, I voted for the authority to go after him. My frustration was that we didn't go after him. It took 10 years. He says that, after 10 years, there were better ways to do it. I'm just trying to suggest respect for other nations' sovereignty. I'm just suggesting that there are processes that if you can follow them, you should do it, rather than digging bigger holes for ourselves. That's what we've been doing in the Middle East, he says. I just didn't think they had gone through the process enough to actually capture him in a different way.
10:00 p.m.: During the commercial break, a Wall Street Journal reporter on site in Myrtle Beach says he thinks Newt Gingrich is having the best performance and connecting best with the audience. Romney, he says, is underperforming.
9:56 p.m.: Commercial break. Back in a minute.
9:54 p.m.: One of the moderators challenges Gingrich further, saying his remarks about Obama being a food-stamp president could easily be interpreted as belittling people on food stamps. Gingrich responds that it's true that more people are on food stamps under Obama than under any other president, even if among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. He concludes, I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, he's still going to do everything he can to make sure Americans can get jobs, keep jobs and eventually own those jobs.
9:52 p.m.: Gingrich is asked to justify his statement, several weeks back, that child labor laws are detrimental and that young Americans should be able to work, for example, as janitors in their schools. Doesn't he understand that that could be offensive? No, I don't see that, he says. He adds that lots of people have written to him to describe the jobs they got at age 11 and how valuable the experience was in allowing them to earn money and develop a work ethic.
9:51 p.m.: Paul is now criticizing a criminal justice system that institutionalizes racial discrimination and punishes non-violent offenders, in many cases, more heavily than violent offenders. Rich white people don't get the death penalty very often, he says, but minority offenders who commit non-violent crimes are sometimes sentenced to life in prison. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he also says that King would have supported his anti-war positions.
9:49 p.m.: Asked about the high levels of poverty among African-Americans and whether special steps to be taken to combat such poverty, Santorum cites a Brookings Institute study that if Americans do three things, they can avoid poverty: work, graduate high school and get married before you have children. He goes on to criticize Obama for, he says, preventing schools from teaching students about values like abstinence. Neutrality [in teaching] ends in poverty, he says. The idea that schools should not be able to tell students what the right choices are is absolutely unconscionable.
9:47 p.m.: Romney is asked about his opposition to the DREAM Act, and how that might affect his support among Latino voters. He responds that Latino voters, like all other voters, are interested in America as a land of opportunity, and that he fully supports legal immigration, but those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism. He says he would veto the DREAM Act if it included any provisions that created such favoritism.
9:45 p.m.: Romney says he's willing to release his income tax returns as a matter of disclosure, but he doesn't see the need to do it right now. He says he might release them in April.
9:44 p.m.: All five candidates are asked about their tax policies. They each summarize their plans to lower the corporate and individual income tax rates by varying amounts. Paul says we should go back to zero, as was the case before the 16th Amendment authorized the income tax to begin with.
9:41 p.m.: Paul takes some offense to a question about how his non-interventionist foreign policy would affect the people in South Carolina who are employed on the state's seven military bases. He says his cuts would affect our overseas operations, not domestic defense spending. To say we would be weaker is absolutely wrong, he says, adding, The military is behind me more than any of the other [candidates]. The moderator presses him: if he wants to freeze military spending, wouldn't that necessarily entail cutting some of those jobs in South Carolina? He responds: You don't understand, there's a difference between military spending and defense spending. You, he says, would consider an embassy in Baghdad defense spending. I consider that waste. Lots of applause.
9:39 p.m.: Romney is asked how far he would go as president to avoid another financial crisis, such as one sparked by the crisis in Europe. Would central banks have a role, for example? He says he certainly wouldn't want to let the economy tank again, but we have to recognize that free enterprise works without regulations. We shouldn't be thinking about how much we can push government into the American economy, but how much we can get government out of the American economy.
9:36 p.m.: Gingrich is asked how many weeks unemployment insurance should be available. He dodges a bit, not giving a number, but saying that all unemployment insurance should be tied to work-training programs. He says, 99 weeks is an associate degree! Then he says that the difference between Obama and the five Republican candidates onstage is, We actually think work is good. We actually think saying to somebody, 'I'll help you if you're willing to help yourself,' is good, and we think unconditional efforts by the best food-stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country.
9:34 p.m.: Santorum says it should be up to the states to decide whether to extend unemployment benefits when they expire at the end of the month. He says he believes unemployment should be available for a certain length of time to allow people to get back on their feet, but we're not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment insurance for a long period of time.
9:32 p.m.: Perry is asked about his support for religious organizations that choose not to hire certain people based on factors like sexual orientation. He says, This administration is at war against organized religion. He says it's unacceptable for the Obama administration to deny federal funding for humanitarian programs just because it doesn't agree with the Catholic Church on social issues: If that's not a war on religion, I don't know what it is, and this administration is out of control.
9:29 p.m.: We're back from commercial break, and the first question goes to Romney, on social issues. He says as governor of Massachusetts, he initially tried to strike a balance between his personal anti-abortion views and his belief that the government shouldn't be involved in personal decisions, but when a bill came to his desk that would have authorized stem-cell research -- which he characterized as creating life just to kill it -- he said, I simply couldn't sign something like that. Then he moves on to same-sex marriage, which he says he never supported. But, he adds, while he does not support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, I believe we should provide equal rights to people regardless of their sexual orientation. It's anybody's guess what that means.
9:23 p.m.: Perry says the bickering between Romney and Santorum over voting rights for felons is a prime example of a discussion between Washington insiders. Washington, D.C., needs to leave the states alone and let the states decide these issues, he says to applause. And now we're going to a commercial break.
9:21 p.m.: Romney repeats his argument that attack ads from super PACs are something that's completely out of the control of candidates. Technically, it's true that candidates and super PACs are not allowed to collaborate, but in practice, super PACs tend to be run by people very familiar with the backgrounds and strategies of the candidates they support.
9:19 p.m.: Santorum and Romney are bickering about whether Romney is dodging a question or not. Santorum complains about a Romney super PAC ad that claims Santorum voted to give convicted felons voting rights once they completed their sentence, and he asks Romney whether he supports voting rights for felons. Romney starts to respond by talking about the role of super PACs. Santorum demands a response to his question first. Romney shoots back, I'll do it in the order that I want to do it. Eventually, he answers, I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again.
9:18 p.m.: Santorum touts his own positive campaign.
9:17 p.m.: Ron Paul is asked whether negativity on the campaign trail should end. He answers that inaccurate attack ads should obviously be eliminated, but that if an ad is simply exposing a candidate's voting record, it's perfectly fine. He then accuses Santorum of some corrupt votes, to which Santorum responds: He quotes a lot of left-wing organizations. Well, of course left-wing organizations say a lot of bad things about me. I wear that as a badge of honor.
9:15 p.m.: Romney makes an odd statement: He says Barack Obama has been president for three years and still doesn't have a jobs plan, even though Obama did propose a jobs plan.
9:14 p.m.: Romney: You never want to see an enterprise go bankrupt and you never want to see anyone lose a job. He says that many of the workers who lost their jobs in some of Bain's unsuccessful ventures were rehired for later ventures, and he adds that free enterprise is crucial to the American economy, even with all its risks.
9:12 p.m.: Perry is asked to defend his characterization of Romney as a vulture capitalist. He says his record as governor of Texas, creating jobs there, proves that he supports capitalism, but that Romney's form of capitalism at Bain destroyed jobs. He then goes on to call for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, a common Republican target: We have too many regulations. Everyone knows that. We are strangling this country with regulations. Romney responds by, again, defending his Bain record, and echoing Perry's anti-regulations talk.
9:08 p.m.: Romney acknowledges that some of his ventures at Bain Capital succeeded and others failed, but says that's part of working in the financial sector. He adds that he learned from the experience and has a proven track record of turning around tough situations. He concludes, My record is out there and I'm proud of it.
9:04 p.m.: First question goes to Gingrich. He is asked how he reconciles his recent attacks on Romney's record with his vow to stay positive. He answers, essentially, that the reality of the race was such that he had to modify his policy: The staying positive through Iowa, through $3.5 million of negative attacks -- you either have to unilaterally disarm and leave the race or you have to at least bring up your opponent's record. Then he touts the job-creating policies he pursued as speaker of the House in the 1990s, which he calls Reagan-esque, and claims that his attacks are giving Romney a necessary opportunity to answer questions about his experience at Bain Capital before they come up in the general election.
9:00 p.m.: We're live at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. From the left side of the stage, it's Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Fox News is inviting viewers to tweet candidates' names and #answer or #dodge to weigh in on whether they are answering or dodging the questions.
8:51 p.m.: The debate should begin in just a few minutes. Stay tuned.