Getting ready to start. I should have a cocktail at the ready, and sip every time the word “contraception” comes up.

UPDATE: Santorum is so, so much better in these things than when the debates first started.

UPDATE.1: Mitt: “It this program so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to fund it? If not, I’m going to get rid of it.” Nice line. At this point, though, it’s hard to take anything they say literally.

John King asks Ron Paul why his latest ad calls Rick Santorum a fake. Said Paul, “Because he’s a fake.” Hilarious! And then Paul backs up what he said. Pretty effective.

(But why is Paul making a big deal about foreign aid votes? It’s a tiny sliver of the federal budget.)

Ah, but Santorum had a strong comeback. “We had a strong record in a tough state to be a conservative,” he said. Unlike representing a district in Texas.

UPDATE.2:  What the heck is Newt talking about, with this “modern management system”? Is this his latest Big Idea? Did this come from the Tofflers? And why is Gingrich now swearing off “class warfare,” given that he aired that Michael Moore-ish anti-Romney video in South Carolina?

UPDATE.3: I agree with Romney on the earmark process, but what on earth can the President do about earmarks? He can’t tell Congress not to do them.

“While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere,” Mitt said to Santorum. Nice zing. But good grief, how many times has Romney brought up the Olympics tonight?

UPDATE.4: Andrew Sullivan is right:

8.33 pm. Boos, sneers, gotchas … all about earmarks, which is a meaningless isue without a line item veto, which Rick and Mitt agree on. Newt eventually calls Romney on his bullshit. In the end, Ron Paul managed something of a win. But it was a confusing, petty, cat-fight. They all lost. I would have turned off the TV by now if I weren’t being paid to keep watching.

UPDATE.5: Notice how Mitt Romney is completely ignoring John King’s actual question, about the lack of private capital for managed bankruptcy?

UPDATE.6: Romney and Gingrich ripping Obama hard on freedom of religion. Romney especially strong.

Santorum’s attempt to turn the contraception question into an issue of bearing children out of wedlock was pretty weak. But he had a great line: “Here’s a difference between me and the Left: just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.”

Romney gave a great answer about the importance of the traditional family to the strength of American society. What, though, does a president have to do with this? Honest question. I like what Romney says very much, but what could he, or any president, do to build up the family?

UPDATE.7: Santorum is flailing, being caught up trying to defend various Senate votes.

UPDATE.8: Santorum: “Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years. Does that make him qualified to be president? I don’t think so.” Yow! Great line. And Santorum had a plausible response as to why he supported Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey. I don’t think it’s entirely true, but it’s plausible.

UPDATE.9: Now they’re onto defense spending. Romney wants to expand the military. All of them do, except for Ron Paul. It drives me nuts, these guys. How the hell are we going to pay for it? Twenty percent of the federal budget goes to defense. But see, the Republicans are going to cut taxes too, haven’t you heard? How are we going to get spending under control if we don’t tackle defense too?

UPDATE.10: So, Mitt says that if we vote for him, we’ll go to war with Iran before we allow it to have nuclear weapons. Santorum agrees. Just so we’re clear about that.

UPDATE.11: So, candidates, should we arm the Syrian opposition?

Santorum: I’m not going to answer that, except to say Obama is handling it badly, because he’s chicken, and there’s going to be an apocalypse because of it. 

Gingrich: I’m not going to answer that, except to say we need to replace the EPA and expand offshore drilling, and Obama is bad.

Romney: I’m not going to answer that, except Obama is bad, and so is Iran. Furthermore… [At which point Mrs. Dreher accidentally bumped into the DirecTV box and cut off the satellite transmission, ending the debate for me tonight. I cannot thank her enough for this.]

 UPDATE.12: One point that I want to make, via Matt Yglesias’s Twitter feed: when that peacock jingo Mitt Romney said that under Obama, if you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe, he conveniently forgot the late Mr. Osama bin Laden. Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich are such frauds on this stuff.

UPDATE.13: OK, one more, this from Andrew Sullivan. Amen and amen:

9.40 pm. Santorum really does seem to be implying that Obama has some kind of secret agenda vis-a-vis Iran. And he pretty obviously would launch a massive war on Iran. We’re hearing the kind of language we heard after 9/11. Exactly the same language; exactly the same arguments; exactly the same paranoia.

There seems to be no memory of the Iraq war at all. It never happened. There was no error. There is nothing to explain. And yet they do not seem to realize that that catastrophic war is the reason Barack Obama is president.

For me, this election is shaping up to having to decide between protecting religious freedom, and going to war.