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master debaters

What You Missed in the Twentieth GOP Debate

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  (L-R) Republican presidential candidates U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich participate in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona as CNN's John King moderates at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. The debate is the last one scheduled before voters head to the polls in Michigan and Arizona's primaries on February 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) For some reason, they sat down this time.

Number of Candidates Who Mouthed the Words to the "Star Spangled Banner": Two (Romney, Santorum)

Number of Candidates Who Are Glad That Satan Is Destroying America Because They Hate It So Much: Two (Paul, Gingrich)  

Number of Times Reagan Was Mentioned: Only three!

Number of Times Obamacare Was Mentioned: Eleven

Most Loosely Paraphrased Seinfeld Reference: "As George Costanza would say, when they're applauding, stop. Right?" — Mitt Romney.

Most Bizarre Slandering of Government Employees: "And I'm going to link the pay of government workers with the pay in the private sector. Government servants shouldn't get paid more than the people who are paying taxes." — Mitt Romney implying that government employees don't pay taxes. 

Most Exaggerated Claim About President Obama: "I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama." — Mitt Romney, whose ancestors, as Andrew Sullivan points out, were literally driven from the country because of their religion. 

Most Direct: "Because he's a fake." — Ron Paul, when asked why he's running a TV ad that labels Rick Santorum "a fake." 

Best Chin Stroking:

Top Three Media Bashes:

3. "I would say the perpetuation of the myth by the media that I can't win." — Ron Paul, on the "biggest misconception" about him right now.

2. "He's going to have the national media on his side." — Rick Santorum, on Barack Obama. 

1. "I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide." — Newt Gingrich to John King.  

Best Pretend Writing

Least Plausible Conspiracy Theory: "You recall back in the debate that we had George Stephanopoulos talking out about birth control, we wondered why in the world did contraception — and it's like, why is he going there? Well, we found out when Barack Obama continued his attack on religious conscience." — Mitt Romney, seeming to imply that George Stephanopoulos was coordinating with the White House on contraception, or something. In reality, Stephanopoulos asked about birth control because Santorum had recently claimed that states had the power to ban contraception. 

Most Convoluted Answer: Santorum on supporting Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter over the more right-wing Pat Toomey in 2004:

Why I supported Arlen Specter, number one because — because Arlen Specter was a — a senator who was going to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee at a time when the most important issue that was coming up in the next session of Congress was two to three Supreme Court nominees that were going to be available. And one, and maybe two of them, or maybe all three were going to be out of the conservative block. And Arlen Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had a conversation.

He asked me to support him. I said will you support the president's nominees? We had a 51-49 majority in the Senate. He said I'll support the president's nominees as chairman. Every nominee Arlen Specter supported from the time he — he took on Judge Forks and saved Justice Thomas. Every nominee he supported, passed. Why? Because it gave Democrats cover to vote for it and it gave Republican moderates cover to vote for it.

Top Two Most Gingrich-y Things Newt Gingrich Said

2. "I would, frankly, dramatically shrink the Federal Department of Education."

1. "We need a fundamental rethinking from the ground up." 

Nicest Thing Anyone Said About President Obama: "We talked about the importance of charter schools, which was the one area where I thought the president did in fact show some courage, being willing to go into Philadelphia or into Baltimore or in a variety of places and advocate — we were in Montgomery, Alabama, for example — and say charter schools are an important step in the right direction." — Newt Gingrich.

Most Unnecessary Dodge: Mitt Romney refuses to say what the biggest misconception about him is, and instead just says some things about America. 

Loser: Rick Santorum

Winner: Barack Obama

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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images