There were two questions going into Monday’s GOP presidential debate, which was sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. First, who would emerge as the victor in the battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, the two Republican front-runners, over Social Security. Second, which candidates would elbow their way into the conversation?
Perry Wins Battle Against Romney
After Perry characterized Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” in a debate last week in California at the Reagan Library, Romney tried to pounce on those comments by accusing Perry of trying to kill Social Security. Romney tried to depict Perry as a candidate Democrats could frame as being out of the mainstream, which, according to Romney, would obliterate Republicans in a general election.
On Monday, Perry responded by saying it was a “slam dunk” for “seniors on Social Security and those moving toward it,” that the “program will be there for them.”
Calling for the system to be reformed, Perry said politicians have not had “the courage to look people in the eye” and tell them that “this is a broken system.”
Romney cited heavily from Perry’s book, Fed Up, and accused Perry of implying that Social Security was unconstitutional and a failure. At one point, when Romney and Perry were arguing over what the other had written about Social Security in their respective books, they argued over what Perry meant when he accused Romney of saying “it” was criminal. Romney said “it” was criminal for Congress to rob the Social Security trust fund. In making his point, though, Romney looked like a wonkish Al Gore debating against George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential debates, and Perry came away looking more steady than Romney.
Further, in a CNN/Opinion Research Poll that was released on Monday, Perry led the field in the category that asked those polled about a candidate’s conviction.
Like with his comments on Social Security, when Perry did not back down from his earlier comments in which he called Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s potential actions to be “almost treasonous,” he both appealed to the base and showed a firm resolve, qualities Romney has had trouble with.
“If you are allowing the Fed to be used for political purposes, then it is almost treasonous,” Perry said again.
Against Romney, Perry came across as a leader and an executive who had conviction while Romney came across as a politician intent on racking up debating points as if they were Olympic medals.
Field Hurts Perry on Immigration and HPV Vaccine
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum opened up some wounds on Perry by attacking two of his vulnerabilities: His record on immigration and the executive order he signed which would have mandated that girls in Texas get the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.
Bachmann said it was “flat out wrong” to have “innocent little 12 year-old girls be forced” to have a “government injection through” an “executive order.”
Bachmann then said that Perry was guilty of crony capitalism, a theme former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin railed against in her address in Iowa over Labor Day weekend and which candidates have begun to talk about more since.
According to Bachmann, the drug company that made the vaccine “made millions of dollars because of this mandate,” and “[Perry’s] former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company.”
Perry said that the person in question only donated $5,000 to his campaign and he was offended that he was being accused of being bought for essentially $5,000. Bachmann replied that she was offended for the innocent girls that would have been forced to be injected and whose liberties would have been violated by Perry’s executive order.
Speaking of girls who have had adverse reactions to the HPV vaccine, Bachmann said, “they don’t get a mulligan or do-over.”
Further, Perry had to defend himself against the Texas version of the DREAM Act, which he signed into law. Unlike the federal version, the Texas version of the DREAM Act does not provide a pathway for citizenship. It does, however, give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Jon Huntsman accused Perry of being “treasonous” for saying that the border could not be secured.
In addition, Rick Santorum, who had a substantive debate talking about his family’s immigration experience and needing English as the official language in addition to his past successes as a legislator, not only attacked Perry on immigration but also teamed with Bachmann to slam Perry on his Gardasil executive order.
Santorum told Perry that his policy was wrong and criticized him for thinking it was still right. Santorum said that Perry was implying that he should have gone through the legislature instead of signing an executive order, and that he should have had an “opt-in” policy. According to Santorum, forcing “them to have this inoculation” was wrong policy.
This all aided Romney, who is not going to win a one-on-one battle against Perry, and whose only chance against him is if the other candidates siphon votes away from the Texas Gov.
Cain and Gingrich shine in different ways
In the leadoff debate in South Carolina, Herman Cain starred mainly because he got a lot of time to speak because the field was not as crowded as it is now. Consistently, the more Cain speaks, the more people like him. On Monday, Cain spoke of his compelling background and private sector experience while offering a host of solutions.
In reference to his “9-9-9” plan that calls for a nine percent business flat tax, a nine percent personal income tax, and a nine percent national sales tax, Cain said that he has been told by some people that he could not get the plan passed because he doesn’t “know how Washington works.” Cain said he replies, “Yes I do [know how Washington works]. It doesn’t.”
Cain also said that he knew how to be “pro-worker because I come from a working family. My mother was a domestic worker. My Father was a barber, a janitor and a chauffeur, all at the same time. I understand work because that’s how I came up.”
Gingrich, on the other hand, resembled the Republican team captain rallying the troops to defeat Obama in 2012. Gingrich convincingly spoke of how a full employment economy was the best way to fix Social Security. He spoke of how individuals and not the government or, necessarily, governors create jobs. He called for a Social Security system in which young workers could choose to have personal accounts. He railed against General Electric and Obama’s green jobs subsidies. He recounted what Ronald Reagan used to say about turning on the light for the people so that the people can turn the heat on their congressmen to get their message across. Gingrich said the country needed to focus on Mexico, the Middle East, and the industrial base at home as part of a core foreign policy strategy. He focused on the need to cut out waste from government programs such as Medicare. It was another polished and poised debate performance for Gingrich, who is emerging as one of the GOP’s field generals going into 2012.
Ron Paul–who attacked Perry for signing executive orders did not back down from his libertarian beliefs on the economy and health care–and Jon Huntsman gave disjointed perfomances that left much to be desired.