Republican Presidential Debate Turns Into Strange Faculty Lounge

HANOVER, N.H. -- Charlie Rose's famous oak table ended up looking like the faculty lounge of the world's strangest economics department. On speed.

Rick Santorum wants to "beat" China. Mitt Romney warns that "if you don't stand up to China, you will be run over by China." Herman Cain denies that the criticism of his "9-9-9" plan's arithmetic is incorrect because it is incorrect. Michele Bachmann says that Cain's plan is dangerous because if you turn "9-9-9" upside down it reads "666." "The devil is in the details," she said with a cold smile.

If the American people are looking for concrete, comprehensible specifics about a way forward to more jobs for the middle class, it is hard to know if they found any in the GOP presidential debate at Dartmouth Tuesday night.

Cain has been a star of this Mad Hatters Tea Party, declaring that his "9-9-9" tax plan had been vetted by a guy in Cleveland and that "dynamic scoring" meant that a $2 trillion shortfall estimated by Bloomberg was not, in fact, a shortfall.

Cain's guy in Cleveland turns out to be a rural financial adviser whose company bio insists that he "can offer you a wide range of services, from helping you select individual investments to developing a retirement plan. With access to a broad array of company resources -- including research analysts and economic and market experts -- I can help you make informed investment decisions based on your specific needs."

Romney all but declared a trade war on China. Newt Gingrich called for jailing Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, said that new prostate exam guidelines will "end up killing people" and suggested that the chairman of the Federal Reserve should be booted -- even though neither the president nor Congress has that power until his term ends several years from now.

Rick Santorum talked somewhat comprehensibly but not specifically about his re-industrialization plan, though again the details were fuzzy, at least in this telling.

A subdued Ron Paul was well, Ron Paul, mumbling on about the superiority of Austrian economists to Keynesians. That'll win over the middle class.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas kept quiet, knowing either that he is in over his head or that no one in the country understands what is being said.