Front-runner Rick Perry plays the 'piñata' at GOP presidential debate
In his first presidential debate since entering the GOP field, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took most of the barbs from his fellow candidates on issues ranging from Social Security to jobs.
The two men lashed out at each other’s records on job creation and set the tone for an evening that was largely focused on the two front-runners and their differences.
Mr. Romney defended his record as the former Massachusetts governor, as Texas Governor Perry touted his own achievements.
And that was just the first 10 minutes.
It was Perry’s first debate since entering the race in August – and quickly taking the lead in the polls – and, as expected, he was the main focus of the evening, both from the moderators and his fellow debaters.
“I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party,” he quipped at one point.
Most notably, he continued to defend his statement that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” despite the bashing that the comment has taken in recent days from fellow Republicans.
“You cannot keep the status quo in place and call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme,” he reiterated, drawing immediate criticism from several other GOP candidates, clearly looking to mark differences.
“Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who’s committed to saving Social Security,” countered Romney, taking issue with Perry’s statement that “by any measure Social Security is a failure.”
Jockeying behind the front-runners
Romney wasn’t the only Republican taking shots at Perry.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said that, “I hate to rain on the parade of the Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah we were the No. 1 job creator during my years of service.” And while he refused to name names on who his chief strategist was referring to when he criticized some in the GOP as a “bunch of cranks,” he took direct issue with Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, among others, by going after those who doubt climate change.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rick Santorum, and Ms. Bachmann, meanwhile, all piled on Perry's executive order requiring young girls in Texas to get vaccinated for HPV, a sexually transmitted virus. They touted the importance of parental rights.
That was one area, in fact, where Romney came to Perry’s defense, saying that “I think his heart was in the right place.”
Newt Gingrich also tried to take a moral high ground by refusing to engage at times.