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November 23rd, 2011

CNN National Security Debate Recap, Winners and Losers

Newt Gingrich has vaulted to the top of the polls thanks to dominant performances in most of the debates. He seemed headed toward another victory when the subject of immigration came up. Gingrich basically admitted he favored amnesty for some illegal immigrants. That is counter to the stance of many conservatives. Will it hurt him?

Here is a look at’s breakdown of how each candidate fared, with winners and losers:

Michele Bachmann:

Craig Robinson: Once again, Bachmann had a solid debate performance, and this debate had nothing to do with Obamacare. Bachmann doesn’t get much credit for her foreign policy chops, but serving on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence makes her very knowledgeable on a wide vareity of foreign policy issues. Bachmann also scores political points tonight by highlighting Newt Gingrich’s position on favoring amnesty for some people who are in the country illegally. It was a great night for Bachmann.

Kevin Hall: The Minnesota congresswoman was strong here, giving probably her best performance since her first debate back in June. It was her needling of Gingrich that extended his pro-amnesty statements, though Bachmann distorted what Gingrich said. Overall, she did very well on substance and might have created an opening for herself on by attacking Newt on immigration, which is one of her strengths. It was a good night for Michele Bachmann.

Herman Cain:

Craig Robinson: As we have seen over the span of the entire campaign, when it comes to foreign policy, Herman Cain does not have the base of knowledge to serve as the nation’s Commander-in-Chief. Most of Cain’s answers included qualified statements like “it depends” or “it may be.” Answers like that worked for Cain back in May when the race was in its infancy, but Cain has gotten worse on this subject matter as the campaign has transpired. There was one bright spot. He called Wolf Blitzer, “Blitz” twice. I’m sure it was all part of Mark Block’s master plan.

Kevin Hall: It was a bunch of non-answers from the Georgia businessman. He basically said, “I’ll have to check with (fill in the blank)” for almost every answer. Cain’s best answer came at the end, when he said cyber-attacks are the national security threat most often overlooked. However, one decent, 10 second answer does not a good performance make. Cain was out of his league.

Newt Gingrich:

Craig Robinson: The debate started off very strong for Gingrich when he made Ron Paul look like a fool for being opposed to the Patriot Act. Paul’s use of the example of Timothy McVeigh was poor, and Gingrich made him pay when he reminded the Texas Congressman that McVeigh’s attack succeeded, and the Patriot Act helps prevent terrorist acts from occurring in the first place. Gingrich then said that arresting a terrorist after they blow up a major U.S. city is not much of a victory.

While Gingrich was strong early on, his embrace of amnesty for certain illegal immigrants could make life difficult for him in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina. Rick Perry called those who are opposed to giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition breaks “heartless” in an earlier debate. Those comments still haunt Perry today. Gingrich’s stubbornness on this issue will make winning the Iowa caucuses much more difficult. The only thing that will be remembered in this debate is Gingrich’s pro-amnesty position.

Kevin Hall: The former House Speaker was cruising. Then he said illegal immigrants who have been here for 25 years, raised families, paid taxes and go to church, should not be deported. While this might seem like a reasonable stance to some, it will turn immigration hardliners against him.

A TIR poll conducted over the summer showed illegal immigration and border security is the most important issue for 15 percent of Iowa caucus goers. That is a significant amount of voters Gingrich might have alienated Tuesday night. This will be the main news story coming out of the debate. For that, Gingrich turned a great performance into one that will hurt his campaign.

Jon Huntsman:

Craig Robinson: As was expected, Jon Huntsman did much better in this debate on foreign policy than the other debates that dealt with a wide array of issues. Huntsman was solid, not spectacular. There is no doubt that he understands China, but his knowledge on the Middle East seemed limited.

Kevin Hall: This was his best debate. He should switch parties and primary Obama. I think he would do well.

Ron Paul:

Craig Robinson: Next time there is a foreign policy debate, Ron Paul would be well advised to skip it. I admire his consistency on foreign policy and other issues, but his views would have been radical in even a Democratic presidential debate. That fact that he spent most of his time talking about Timothy McVeigh and legalizing marijuana should tell you all you need to know. It was also troubling to hear him say that the biggest foreign policy threat to America that nobody is talking about is our own involvement overseas. Really? Not Iran, not terrorism, not radical Islam, but America herself. Wow.

Kevin Hall: It was a difficult night for the Texas congressman. He got completely dismantled by Gingrich when debating the Patriot Act. His “the aid is all worthless” in regards to Africa was completely ignorant. Paul towed the libertarian line throughout, but further marginalized himself in the GOP primary.

Rick Perry:

Craig Robinson: Perry was solid in the debate, but also didn’t do anything to help his campaign get out of the current slump it is in. Give credit for Perry actually putting forward a couple foreign policy proposals. While his proposed Syria no-fly zone and his zero-based budgeting proposal for foreign aid have their critics, he’s at least trying to lead on a foreign policy issue.

Kevin Hall: The Texas governor did better than he has in previous debates, but his views on zero aid to Pakistan and a no-fly zone over Syria came under attack from the other candidates. Perry stood his ground, but I’m not sure he won the arguments. It was a mixed bag for Perry.

Mitt Romney:

Craig Robinson: The CNN debate was largely uneventful for Romney. Even still, Romney was once again able to appeal to conservatives on immigration issues, and his other positions and statements on foreign policy issues were thoughtful and inline with basic Republican beliefs. Romney did engage with Huntsman at one point, but it was inconsequential.

Kevin Hall: Although he started off by claiming Mitt is his real first name, it was another steady, mostly smooth performance for the former Massachusetts governor. He took on Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman at different points, and won both arguments. Gingrich’s immigration statements help Romney. Anytime he seems more conservative than a GOP opponent, it’s a plus for Mitt Romney. That, combined with another steady performance makes it a good night for Mitt.

Rick Santorum:

Craig Robinson: Santorum is probably the most well thought-out and consistent candidate on the stage when it comes to foreign policy. Numerous candidates made a point to agree with Santorum in last night’s debate, and when given the opportunity to answer a question, he provided thoughtful and intelligent answers. You might not get memorable one-liners with Santorum, but what you do get is a serious answer on a serious subject.

Kevin Hall: The former Pennsylvania senator once again offered depth and tremendous knowledge on the issues. He did not have any lines that come across as memorable, but there was plenty of substance. Santorum showed some boldness by saying we should profile Muslims. It was a politically incorrect thing to say, but most conservatives likely agree with him. His opponents said they agreed with his answers more than once. Overall, it was a good night for Santorum, but not a great one.

Overall Winners:

Craig Robinson: Bachmann, Romney, Santorum. All three offered real substance.

Kevin Hall: Romney and Bachmann. Romney’s not a winner because he gave the best debate, but due to Gingrich likely hurting himself on immigration. Bachmann was great on substance, won her argument with Perry and helped facilitate Gingrich’s amnesty admission.

Overall Losers:

Craig Robinson: Gingrich.  The only thing that will be remembered in this debate is Gingrich’s pro-amnesty position.

Kevin Hall: Gingrich, Cain and Paul. Gingrich owned the debate for 1 hour, 55 minutes. The five minutes spent on immigration hurt him. Cain provided zero substance and Paul lost every argument where he was engaged by another candidate.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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