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.
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Newt Gingrich also tried to take a moral high ground by refusing to engage at times.Skip to next paragraph
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In an early line of questioning, where moderator John Harris of Politico tried to get candidates to jump on Romney for his health-care plan in Massachusetts, former House Speaker Gingrich sharply rebuked Mr. Harris.
“You’d like to puff this up into some giant thing,” Gingrich told Harris. “I for one am going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect President Obama.… Every person up here understands ObamaCare is a disaster.”
If Perry was the main focus of the debate, Bachmann seemed strangely absent. Many were watching her to see how she handled her first debate with Perry as a candidate – given that he has siphoned off many of her supporters – but she participated relatively little and often refused to spar with other candidates, reserving most of her criticism for President Obama.
The other candidates sometimes seemed to be jockeying for position behind the front-runners, with Mr. Huntsman working to portray himself as moderate alternative to right-wing candidates like Perry, and Mr. Paul setting himself up as the outlier on any issue involving federal regulation.
And for much of the debate there also seemed to be a ninth Republican up on stage.
Perhaps it was inevitable in a debate held in the Reagan Presidential Library, but the former president was omnipresent.
Huntsman invoked a flight he took with Reagan to China early on the debate, and the candidates competed for who could take on his mantle.
Perry brought up the issue of Paul’s letter to Reagan in 1987 that said he’d quit the party over Reagan’s stances. (Paul replied that “I support the message of Ronald Reagan,… but the consequences were not all that great,” citing the huge deficits of the 1980s.)
Bachmann responded to a question about all the candidates agreeing that they would not accept a debt deal that included $10 in spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases by saying, “There’s someone else who would join us in that agreement, and that would be Ronald Reagan.”
Gingrich invoked Reagan in defending his immigration platform – which differed notably from most of his opponents in his willingness to talk about a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million immigrants currently here illegally.
And Mr. Santorum used Reagan’s commitment to “America being a force for good around the world” to counter Bachmann’s statement that it was wrong to go into Libya. “This is a very important issue for our party: Are we going to stand in the Reagan tradition, or are we going to with the isolationist view that some in this party are advocating?” he asked.