Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

GOP debate: Did Rick Perry survive the attacks of his fellow Republicans?

At Thursday night's Republican presidential candidates debate, the focus was on front-runner Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He was the main target of criticism, especially from Mitt Romney.

By Staff writer / September 23, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry (L) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney take the stage prior to the Republican Party of Florida presidential candidates debate in Orlando, Florida, September 22.

Scott Audette/Reuters


The Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., Thursday night wasn’t all about Rick Perry. But at this point in the long, grueling pre-primary campaign, all eyes were on the Texas governor.

Skip to next paragraph

Particularly the eyes of Mitt Romney – dislodged as the front-runner by Perry – who aggressively came after the Texan, scoring debating points on the economy, education, immigration, and other issues.

Perry was not backing down, however, standing firm when not just Romney but the other candidates as well hammered him on his immigration record in Texas. If you don’t understand the need to provide in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, he said, “Then you have no heart” – a comment that drew a mixture of applause and booing.

Primary voters choose their champion based not just on policy points but on style and comfort level with the contenders. On Thursday night, at least, Romney seemed more self-assured, confident, and articulate. Perry sometimes appeared to have a hard time looking at Romney standing next to him, hesitating now and then in his answers.

In his response to a question about terrorists acquiring Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, “he did not seem in command on a topic on which he needs to show some heft,” blogged Maggie Haberman, a senior political writer for Politico.

“In a way, he’s still the rookie in the field,” said conservative Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer immediately following the debate in Orlando, which was sponsored by Fox News and Google.

With his late entry in the GOP contest, Perry quickly shoved Michele Bachmann to the side as the tea party favorite, then bolted to the presumptive front-runner slot in national polls.

But since then, his campaign has hit a couple of speed bumps, and he’s lost ground in some polls.

He startled many analysts (not to mention voters) with his tarring Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” and possibly unconstitutional. His ordering middle-school girls to receive injections to protect against a sexually transmitted disease raised the ire of many parents (and libertarians generally), and it also led to charges of “crony capitalism” because of political contributions from Merck, the company that makes the vaccine.

His pro-Israel speech in New York this week was sharply criticized by Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan.

“It does not seem to have occurred to Mr. Perry that when you are running for president you have to be big, you have to act as if you're a broad fellow who understands that when the American president is in a tight spot in the U.N., America is in a tight spot in the U.N. You don't exploit it for political gain,” Noonan wrote.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story