The Republican presidential candidate debate Tuesday night had no defining moment like the one two weeks ago, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t remember a federal department he wanted to eliminate. But sparks flew on some issues, such as the Patriot Act and immigration.
However, Tuesday’s clash on foreign policy raised a lot more questions than it answered, Politico
observes. Here are six conclusions the news service drew from the debate.
1. “On immigration, Newt’s in general election mode”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said some illegal immigrants who have been here for years should be allowed to stay to avoid ripping up families. Clearly, he will take some heat from conservatives on this one. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were all over him after he made his remarks. Perry paid the price for a soft stance on immigration in a previous debate. But while Perry made the mistake of accusing his opponents of a lack of heart, Gingrich framed the issue in terms of values. Republicans, as the “pro-family” party, should avoid destroying families, he said. How the GOP’s conservative base reacts to his stance will be interesting to see.
2. “Mitt Romney finally underperformed”
Romney didn’t make any major mistakes, but he didn’t stand out in an area where he’s supposed to be head and shoulders above his competitors. He expressed support for Israel and cited Iran and China as threats. He did have one digressive period when he pushed a chat about cuts in defense spending triggered by the supercommittee’s failure into an attack on the cost of last year’s healthcare reform law.
3. “The undercard overperformed”
Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman particularly shined. Bachmann bested Perry in a spat over Pakistan and foreign aid. She looked presidential.
Huntsman, the foremost foreign policy expert among the candidates, did well in discussions of the Mideast and China.
Expectations were low for Perry, but at least he didn’t fall short of them. The problem is that Romney and Gingrich, the two candidates he is chasing now, look more solid in their knowledge of foreign policy than he does.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul ably expressed his views: less government intrusion and less foreign aid, including less aid to Israel. But he showed no sign of expanding his narrow base.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum didn’t fare so well, at one point calling Africa a “country.”
Former businessman Herman Cain didn’t show much knowledge about the issues, basically sticking to his formulaic response that he would listen to commanders on the ground, solicit advice from policy advisers, and then maybe we’ll join an invasion or maybe we won’t.
4. “The Patriot Act and racial profiling still raise temperatures”
Gingrich suggested he supports the Patriot Act, and Paul stuck to his long-held opposition. Cain said his hope would be to kill terrorists before they could act. Santorum said he backs racial profiling. So the candidates clearly are divided on this controversial issue.
5. “The debate crowd matters”
This debate was populated with Beltway insiders, unlike the past 11 debates, in which Republican activists made up much of the audience. The change put a bit of a crimp into the style of Gingrich, who played up to the grass-roots audience in past debates by attacking the questions, moderators, and press. That wasn’t going to work Tuesday, but Gingrich adjusted well, projecting a presidential presence.
6. “The moderator matters, too”
“This was [CNN commentator Wolf] Blitzer’s second outing moderating a GOP debate this cycle, and he knocked it out of the park,” Politico states. He let candidates speak to each other and didn’t arbitrarily cut them off. His style allowed for an actual debate, unlike some of the previous face-offs.
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