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Republican debate: A real Saturday night live

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Paul Romney Santorum
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Saturday night’s Republican debate on ABC found the six men on a New Hampshire stage railing against gay marriage, “the media’s war on religion,” and President Obama’s “social welfare state.” Mitt Romney also emphasized that we need to be reminded that we have “the right to pursue happiness.” And by invoking happiness, he wasn’t trying to act as a prime-time lead-in to Saturday Night Live.

Romney asserted that, under the Obama administration, “we’re increasingly becoming like Europe; Europe isn’t working in Europe.” This provided Newt Gingrich with the deadpan laugh-line of the night. He said thought Romney was being “a bit harsh on President Obama, who in his desperate effort to create a radical European socialist model is sincere.” Loud guffaws were heard in the audience.

Moderator George Stephanopoulos stirred up a wowser of an exchange — unfortunately between Romney and George Stephanopoulos, not another candidate — when Stephanopoulos asked Romney if he would support states seeking to ban contraception. Romney pointed out that no state is trying to do this, but Stephanopoulos would not be deterred. He pressed Romney to answer. Exasperated, Romney finally said simply, “Contraception? It’s workin’ just fine — just leave it alone!” (This sort of off-kilter showiness is precisely why I regret that Stephanopoulos is headed back to ABC’s Sunday news show This Week, replacing Christiane Amanpour.)

Rick Santorum left his sweater vest — which he’s been wearing like armor everywhere he goes these days — in the closet for this evening. He dove into one of his favorite topics, gay marriage (he’s against it), when the topic was raised by Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer. He repeated his long-standing belief that legal marriage is “only for a man and a woman.” Romney was eager to out-conservative Santorum on this, saying that he was not only against gay marriage, but that children would benefit most in an “ideal setting … where there’s a male and a female.”

Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry were frequently left by the wayside in terms of rhetorical impact. The biggest impression Perry made was with his answer in the final moments of the debate, when asked what he’d be doing on a Saturday night if he wasn’t debating, He said, “I’d be at the shooting range.”

This was just the first Republican debate that will be held within 24 hours; tomorrow morning, the candidates will have at it on an expanded version of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Twitter: @kentucker

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