For the second time in four days, the GOP presidential candidates took the stage for a debate. This one focused exclusively on foreign policy and national security. The first hour aired live on the CBS network. The final half hour was only available online and the CBS feed was lousy for the first 15 minutes of that. So, most viewers only paid attention to the first hour. This recap covers the entire debate.
Here is a look at how each candidate fared, along with winners and losers:
Michele Bachmann: Once again, the Minnesota congresswoman was in command on the issues and offered plenty of substance. She also failed to stand out, again. Bachmann had a good line about Obama “allowing the ACLU to run the CIA”. Often ignored, she practically begged the moderators for time on two different occasions, but was shot down. Bachmann held her own, but did little to sway voters.
Herman Cain: Without the ability to use “9-9-9” as a crutch, Cain struggled. He provided his answers with a slow, methodical delivery, probably trying to avoid a gaffe. Much like Cain’s stances on social issues, some of his foreign policy answers were indecipherable.
Cain proclaimed, “I do not agree with torture. Period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.” Huh?
Six months after officially declaring his candidacy, Cain is still giving the same non-answer on the war in Afghanistan. Cain called Yemen’s corrupt president “our friend”, and still believes we can somehow undermine Iran’s nuclear program by drilling for oil here. Cain received few applause breaks from a lively South Carolina crowd. It was not his best night.
Newt Gingrich: Once again, the former House Speaker commanded the stage better than anyone else. He provided strong, substantive issues. Gingrich projects an aura that he knows the issues better than anyone else. Probably because he does know better. It was another very good performance.
Jon Huntsman: Although I still believe Huntsman is running in the wrong party, this was a very good performance. Unfortunately for the former Utah governor, most GOP primary voters disagree with his stances. However, he provided strong arguments for his views, which include immediately pulling our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and opposing waterboarding. If this were a general election campaign and Huntsman was in his rightful spot as the Democrat, he would have fared very well.
Ron Paul: The Texas congressman’s foreign policy stances are what prevent a lot of Republicans from seriously considering him. As expected, he disagreed with most of the candidates on stage. Paul gave a much better answer regarding Iran’s nuclear program than he did at the Ames debate in August. Although he still opposes going to war to prevent it, Paul said, “If you do, you get a declaration of war and you fight it and you win it.” I thought Paul did a good job presenting his arguments. It seemed like he had very few chances to speak, however.
Rick Perry: After the “Perry Plunge” on Wednesday, I thought his campaign was over. Now, I’m not so sure. This was Rick Perry’s best debate. He was relaxed and provided lots of substance. He scored with the audience by joking about Wednesday’s brain freeze.
Perry gave a terrific answer in regards to foreign aid. “The foreign aid budget in my administration is going to start at $0.” He later added that Pakistan doesn’t deserve any aid and stuck to his answer later in the debate when asked if his $0 policy would include Israel. Perry even got a compliment from Gingrich in regards to his answer. This might signal a rebirth in the Perry campaign.
Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor was his usual polished self. Romney is well versed on every issue and has become an excellent debater. As the presumed frontrunner, Romney handled this debate very well.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator again showed he has a command of the issues. He even disagreed with Newt Gingrich in regards to how to handle Iran’s pending nuclear weapons, but the moderators did not allow the two to argue it out. Calling Pakistan “a friend” probably raised some eyebrows among GOP voters. Santorum was not given a lot of time to shine, which he desperately needs at this point in the campaign.
Overall Winner: Rick Perry. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s gaffe, we have seen a much more human side for Perry. He actually did well in that debate, except for the 53 second brain freeze. Saturday, Perry shined. While he might not have delivered the most style and substance, I believe he helped his campaign more than anyone else. That makes Perry the winner.
Overall Losers: CBS and Herman Cain. Cain avoided any major gaffes, but was clearly the least knowledgeable candidate on the stage. As for CBS, what kind of network only airs an hour of an hour and a half debate? Then encourages people to watch the rest on their website, but provides a feed that pauses every four seconds? Wait. I know the answer. It’s the same kind of network that tried to alter the 2004 presidential race with phony documents.
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