-1 minutes. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer amps up the gang while standing on an empty stage in Tampa, Fla. “All folks will never forget this night,” he says. “Stand by. We’re about to start. The entire world can be watching.” This last part is an overstatement. This fifth Republican presidential debate goes head-to-head with the season premier of Monday Night Football, a game between the Patriots and the Dolphins in nearby Miami. But that may be nothing in comparison to the opposite live television event, the Miss Universe pageant, that is set to start in an hour.
0 minutes. In place of starting with the debate, CNN cuts away to a complicated montage of the eight candidates, giving each a nickname. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is named “The Firebrand.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has held elected office since 1985, is known as “The Newcomer.” Ominous military music plays as a voice over builds the stress. “Eight candidates,” he says. “One stage.” It’s still not football.
3 minutes. To cope with this fact, Blitzer brags in regards to the transmission of the controversy to military bases in 175 countries and Navy ships at sea. Then he explains a posh system for asking the candidates questions, including satellite feeds from three watch parties, Twitter, Facebook and prepositioned microphones within the audience.
4 minutes. There are still no candidates on stage, so Blitzer invites them out, one-by-one. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum walks gingerly, trying his best Miss Universe wave. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich follows with a more confident outstretched arm. Texas Rep. Ron Paul juts his arm out once and retracts, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry who gives a pointy military salute to Blitzer, and shakes the hands of the opposite candidates.
(PHOTOS: Rick Perry’s Life and Career in Politics)
5 minutes. No wave from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, though he does manage a geeky “Hi guys” and shakes Perry’s hand. Bachmann is glowing as she comes out, and kisses Romney’s cheek. Businessman Herman Cain is next, followed by former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who struggles to get Cain’s attention, so he could have someone’s hand to shake, which type of sums up Huntsman’s entire campaign so far.
6 minutes. Still looking to live down the truth that this isn’t a sporting event or a world bikini contest, Blitzer introduces someone to sing the national anthem. We’re six minutes into the debate, and still no debate. This can be an even thing.
9 minutes. Blitzer asks the candidates to briefly introduce themselves. Huntsman says the rustic is split and vows to transport it forward. Cain calls himself a non-politician, that is certainly true. Bachmann says “Tea Party” a few times, adding that she desires to repeal Dodd-Frank, a law that may be considerably less widely known than Patriots QB Tom Brady. Romney talks twice about creating a “brighter” future. Perry says he desires to get “America working again.” Paul praises liberty. Gingrich talks in regards to the “9/12 spirit.” Santorum says he won two elections in a Democratic-leaning state, without mentioning the third election he lost.
13 minutes. The talk finally begins. Bachmann, who didn’t speak for the primary 14 minutes of the last debate, is asked how Social Security and Medicare will also be changed without enraging voters. Bachmann says current beneficiaries have to be told that they’re going to not be affected. Then she accuses President Obama of stealing $500 billion from Medicare to pay for ObamaCare, and says she has “the core of conviction so that you could make the changes that senior citizens can count on.” Not clear what that means, exactly.
(PHOTOS: Michele Bachmann, Off and on the Campaign Trail)
15 minutes. We all know that this Social Security question is truly all about Perry, who called this system a “Ponzi scheme” within the last debate, and therefore gets the following question. He has his answer prepared, saying he desires to tell the reality concerning the program and that current beneficiaries are “slam-dunk guaranteed” to get their promised benefits. “Slam dunk” was a clumsy phrase in national politics ever since CIA director George Tenet used it to explain the knowledge of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But no person on stage seems to mind.
16 minutes. Romney gets a possibility to attack Perry, that is where this was all leading anyway. “The real question is does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security shouldn’t be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional and it is going to be returned to the states or is he going to retreat from that view?” Romney baits his rival.
18 minutes. Perry tries to deflect. “If what you’re seeking to say is that back within the ’30s and the ’40s that the government made the entire right decision, I disagree with you,” he says. But he won’t get off really easy. “The question is,” Romney repeats, “Do you continue to believe that Social Security need to be ended as …