Mitt Romney sails through GOP debate on economy; Rick Perry flounders (video)
Issues in Wednesday's GOP debate – debt, deficit, jobs, spending – played to Mitt Romney's strengths. He also got cheers for declining to pass judgment on Herman Cain. For Rick Perry, however, it was an 'oops' performance.
On a day when the Dow dropped almost 400 points, and in a host state with double-digit unemployment, the Republican presidential candidates in their ninth debate forum Wednesday night forfeited the animosities of past meetings in favor of a substantive discussion of the economy. The topic allowed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to shine during the face-off in Rochester, Mich., and it took some of the heat off businessman Herman Cain, who has dominated political headlines over the past 10 days amid allegations of sexual harassment.Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, still struggling to regain his footing in the polls and mount an effective challenge to rival Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry stumbled notably when he suggested he would cut government spending by folding three federal agencies.
In what’s bound to be the evening’s most-watched video clip, Governor Perry mentioned the Departments of Education and Commerce, and then, when pressed, couldn’t remember the third element of his proposal. He turned to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for guidance. Mr. Paul offered up the Environmental Protection Agency, but that wasn’t right.
“Oops,” Perry said with an air of complacency – and embarrassment. The Department of Energy had eluded him.
The debate, which comes two months before Republican voters first caucus in Iowa and then head to the polls in New Hampshire, seemed to reorient the field to conventional wisdom. Mr. Romney out front, Mr. Cain – despite the seriousness of the charges against him, leveled by four women, two of whom have gone public – hanging on, and Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. unable to distinguish themselves. Three others – Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – also participated, but who if anyone will emerge as an alternative to the practical front-runner remains unclear.
The issues-focused shape of the conversation, which began with a discussion of the US role in the looming Italian debt crisis, suited Romney, who led the private equity firm Bain Capital for a quarter-century. He offered several firm, fluid answers, and unlike some of his fellow nominees, didn’t struggle with the details. American leaders, he said, need to focus energy on growing the domestic economy and paying down debt – or in four or five years, Romney cautioned, the United States will face a similar situation.
“Europe is able to take care of their own problems,” he said. “We don’t want to try to step in and bail out their banks and bail out their governments. They have the capacity to deal with that themselves. They’re a very large economy.”
Mr. Huntsman agreed, suggesting the focus at home should be on creating smaller banks, mitigating the domination of the six bigger institutions whose assets include two-thirds of the gross domestic product.
“As long as we have banks that are too big to fail in this country we’re going to catch the contagion and it’s going to hurt us,” he said.
It took about 20 minutes for co-moderator Maria Bartiromo to ask Cain if, given the allegations of sexual impropriety leveled against him, he offers the kind of leadership and character the American people seek in their president. She was booed by the audience at Oakland University as she questioned him.