Rick Perry Gets Blitzed in Last Night's Debate
Policy + Politics

Rick Perry Gets Blitzed in Last Night's Debate

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Universe pageant, it is understandable if your attention was elsewhere during last night's raucous GOP presidential debate, hosted by the Tea Party and CNN.

For those of you who skipped it, here are the Cliff Notes:

Mitt Romney wasted no time attacking Rick Perry on Social Security and job creation.

Romney and Perry quickly picked up where they left off last week, once again demonstrating that the GOP race is now a two man standoff. While Perry withstood Romney's attacks Social Security — both men accused each other of "scaring seniors" — he faltered as the debate wore on, ceding ground to his rival. Romney, on the other hand, stuck with his slow-and-steady debate strategy to great success. As the rest of the 2012 field piled it on Perry and pandered to the boisterous Tea Party crowd, Romney played it cool, appealing to the broader CNN audience and raising questions about Perry's electability.

This time, Michele Bachmann got in on the action

After last week's dismal debate performance, Bachmann came out swinging last night with aggressive attacks against Perry's record on social issues, particularly his 2007 executive order mandating pre-teen girls be vaccinated for HPV. In her smartest debate move yet, Bachmann accused Perry of issuing the mandate as a favor to campaign donors:

BACHMANN:  What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

PERRY: …The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended.

BACHMANN: Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. That's what I'm offended for.

And then everyone went after Perry on immigration

The subject of illegal immigration — a simmering 2012 campaign issue — gave Bachmann and Romney a chance to hit Perry from the right, attacking him for passing a version of the DREAM Act in Texas and for not supporting a border fence. But it was former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who had the most pointed rebuke for Perry:

HUNTSMAN:  Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can't secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.

Huntsman was full of one-liners, leading off with a weird Kurt Cobain joke

Huntsman, responding to his first question, on Social Security:

HUNTSMAN: You've got Governor Romney, who called it a fraud in his book "No Apology." I don't know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not. And then you've got Governor Perry, who is calling this a Ponzi scheme.

We assume he was referring to Nirvana's "All Apologies," but it is unclear if Huntsman was confused on the title or if he is suggesting Romney's book should be called "All Apologies."

Regardless, the "joke" fell flat. Wrong crowd, it seems.

Ron Paul said Al Qaeda's motives make sense — and lost any mainstream cred he may have had

Responding to Rick Santorum's argument for "American exceptionalism":

PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we're going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they're attacking us because we're free and prosperous, that is just not true.

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit -- they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing — (BOOING) — I didn't say that. I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years. Would you be annoyed? If you're not annoyed, then there's some problem.

Santorum and Newt Gingrich formed a holy alliance, based on mutual love for the 1990s

Gingrich had a strong, articulate performance last night, and Santorum gets credit for catching on. Santorum, a former U.S. Senator, gave Gingrich props three times last night, praising the former Speaker of the House for his ability to rally bipartisan support when the two served in the House together in the early 1990s.

SANTORUM: What we need to do is have a pro-growth plan that can pass the Congress with Democratic support and, as Newt mentioned, be able to rally the American people. What the American people want is a policy that's going to get people the opportunity to rise in society, to fill that great middle of America, and that is manufacturing jobs.

Newt returned the favor with two hat-tips to Santorum.

GINGRICH: Let me say, I helped balance the budget for four straight years. This is not a theory. Rick and I were working together on this. This is not a theory. You voted for it. So we can balance the federal budget.

Ultimately, both campaigns are dead in the water, so their debate alliance is of little consequence. Still, it makes for an interesting storyline as we gear up for three more Republican debates this fall.