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Richard Posner, a conservative judge appointed by Ronald Reagon, has decided that he’s less conservative “since the Republican party started becoming goofy.” After watching the primary debate this evening between the GOP contenders for Claire McCaskill’s senate seat, Rep. Todd Akin, Sarah Steelman, and John Brunner, I understand what he was getting at.

You want to know what the candidates had to say? I can boil it down for you to about three basic proposals that were essentially offered in response to all questions almost as articles of faith: Cut federal spending, stop with all the federal rules and regulations, cut taxes. This simple prescription will fix the economy, create scads of jobs, and save the middle class according to this trio. Of course, it’s also the formula – at least the lack of adequate financial regulation – that blew the economy to smithereens in the first place, but then I think we’re actually talking religion here, not economics.

Speaking of religion, they also all hate Obamacare. Akin really, really hates it (and he knows about using reconciliation to kill it). Brunner calls it ObamaClaire (get it?), because there’s nothing like a catchy slogan. Steelman’s pretty sure that Chief Justice Roberts was just interested in protecting politicians rather than upholding the Constitution when he upheld Obamacare – because we all know that Tea Party hacks have mystical constitutional knowledge not granted to highly-trained legal scholars.

As for what they’d put in place of the ACA, it all sounded a lot like the weak pablum John McCain promised to dish up if he were elected: tort reform, purchasing insurance from out-of-state insurers (in order to undermine consumer protections in states with a well-regulated insurance market, no doubt), all the old GOP standbys.  

Portable insurance policies that folks could take from job to job generated lots of enthusiasm from Steelman and Akin. No mention of who would supply those portable policies, whether folks would be expected to pony up out of their own pockets when they are no longer employed, and whether or not there’d be subsidies for low-income folks who are unemployed or whose employment doesn’t offer insurance. Todd Akin, for one, was sure that this prescription would take care of the uninsured, which is notable because a year or so ago, if I remember correctly, he seemed to think the uninsured poor should beg charities for care. If I were one of the 900,000 uninsured Missourians, I’d be very worried about now.

Who won? Who knows? Who cares? If this evening’s performance is any evidence, the three are basically interchangeable when it comes to substance. A few other takeaways:

–They’re all willing to compromise and work with Democrats as long as Democrats are willing to do just what Republicans want (Akin called it starting from the right principles).

–Todd Akin thinks that Obama is leading us from a recession into depression. And to think – most of the rest of us, including all those economists, are pretty sure we’ve been in a slow recovery for the past three years. Actually, some of us are pretty sure that it’s been the efforts of folks like Akin who are responsible for the slowing of the recovery.

–Akin doesn’t trust Romney’s “conservative” credentials. When asked if he supported the presumptive GOP candidate, Akin responded that he would have to wait to evaluate Romney’s actual performance as president. Goes to show that waffling, etch-a-sketching, and evading specifics doesn’t work with the wingers any more than it does with progressives.

–Brunner proves that practice pays off. He managed to spout a simple message – variations on the citizen politician vs. career politician theme – in a reasonably polished fashion.

–Does Sarah Steelman always seem so terrified when when she speaks in public? Or just when she’s on TV? She should get some pointers from John Brunner’s handlers.

–Finally, I can’t wait to see Claire McCaskill debate whichever of these dufuses wins the primary. As you might guess from the comments above, they all need some serious schooling and one thing about Claire – she can give it to them.