Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Reagan Library

Nancy Reagan joined the Republican candidates before the Presidential Primary Debate at the Reagan Library. (Reuters)

CNN is hosting the debate tonight at the Reagan Library in California.
Look for a beatdown on Romney since he’s the only conservative left in the race.
Here’s the exchange out of the gates:

“We have people who feel there needs to be a change in Washington, and that’s what I represent,” he said, kicking off the final Republican debate before the Super Tuesday contests.

Romney said some of rival John McCain’s views are “out of the mainstream” conservative thought and have hurt the Republican party.

“I would also note if you get endorsed by The New York Times, you’re not a conservative,” Romney said.

McCain, who has emerged as the Republican front-runner, shot back saying, “Let me note that I was endorsed by your two hometown newspapers.”

Here is how Mitt Romney explained McCain’s record, via CNN:


JANET HOOK, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Governor Romney, you’ve spent the last several days warning voters that John McCain as president would follow, quote, “a liberal, Democratic course.” But, by most measures, doesn’t he have a pretty mainstream conservative record?

ROMNEY: I’m sure on many issues he does, and he’s a good Republican. I wouldn’t question those credentials at all. But there are a number of pieces of legislation where his views are out of the mainstream, at least in my view, of conservative Republican thought.

So, for instance, he’s opposed to drilling in ANWR, I believe. If I’m correct — correct me, Senator. He voted twice against the Bush tax cuts. Only two Republicans did that.

He is a co-author of McCain-Feingold, which I think took a whack at the First Amendment and I do believe, as well, hurt our party pretty significantly. And I think it’s made money have an even greater influence in politics today, not less influence.

He also was one of the co-authors of McCain-Kennedy, the first bill, by the way, not that bad. About 5 percent or 10 percent of the people, by our calculation, got a form of amnesty. Most people went home.

Under the final version of McCain-Kennedy, everybody who was here illegally, other than those who committed crimes, was eligible to receive a Z-visa. For $3,000, they got to stay here for the rest of their life. That’s not a Republican thought.

And then now McCain-Lieberman, which is a unilateral — meaning U.S.-only imposed — cap-and-trade program, which puts a burden, as much as 50 cents a gallon, on gasoline in this country. It basically says Americans are going to pay for the cost of global warming, not the Chinese and Indians and forth.

So those views are outside the mainstream of Republican conservative thought. And I guess I’d also note that, if you get endorsed by the New York Times, you’re probably not a conservative.

…Not the most stellar conservative record, that’s for sure.

John McCain, the conservative leader, later talked about- climate change and (no) drilling off the coast.

Michelle Malkin is liveblogging and adds:

Anderson Cooper: Totally out of touch with conservative voters. Totally out of touch with conservative ideology and Republican politics. Haven’t we had enough liberal journalists moderating Republican debates, wasting time recycling the same old questions, and trying to play left-wing gotcha?

Question: Is Ron Paul going to be included at every debate now until November?

McCain: I voted against tax cuts because spending was out of control.
Romney: Senator McCain was one of two to vote against the Bush tax cuts calling them “tax cuts for the rich.” –Ouch!

Romney blasts McCain on the Z-Visas from the McCain-Kennedy bill… (The audience applauds.)

McCain: My bill will not be voted on… The judges I would appoint will be like the justices Roberts and Alito.

Romney blasts McCain for his “lie” that he wanted a timetable on withdrawal.
McCain accuses Romney of timetables. McCain is getting nasty- insists that Romney called for timetables.
Anderson Cooper corrects McCain with the actual quote- Round goes to Romney.

McCain to Romney- “You can blow all of your money on your campaign if you want.” (not exact quote but just as meanspirited and insulting)
Here’s the emotional exchange:

McCain came off mean and nasty… His smirks didn’t help.

Meanwhile… Arnold announced tonight that he is backing McCain.
Good timing- for McCain.

More… HotAir has more video from the debate.
Bryan adds this closing thought: “I dislike McCain all over again. He’s a smarmy beltway insider who just lied to everyone who was watching while he smeared a good man, flipped on his own awful legislation and belittled free enterprise.”

Karl at Protein Wisdom breaks down the alleged “McCain Derangement Syndrome.”

UPDATE: Fox News’ Frank Luntz Focus Group agreed that Romney won the debate:

And… John Stephenson has the exact clip in question from the debate tonight.
This was an underhanded attack by McCain.

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