Newt Gingrich still has not criticized any other candidate on stage, keeping to his strategy of positioning himself as a second-favorite among the supporters of his rivals. He had the biggest applause line of the night when he said, “I’m not worried about Governors Perry and Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every day.” He then hit the President on warning senior citizens that they may not get their social security checks if the Republicans didn’t compromise during the debate over the debt ceiling. Gingrich, as usual, came off as the candidate with the most substantive policy positions, but his strong debate performances have not resulted in an uptick in his poll numbers.
Ron Paul was the sole candidate to take on Perry over the issue of taxes, debt and growth of government. He said that much of Perry’s job creation came from making government jobs and accused him of raising taxes. Paul’s biggest moment was when he said he “doesn’t want to offend the Governor because he might raise my taxes.” Paul was booed when he blamed U.S. foreign policy for the 9/11 attacks and especially when he spoke of the “mistreatment of Palestinians.”
Rick Santorum used his opening to address questions about his electability, emphasizing that he won two elections in a Democratic state without compromising. He criticized Perry for opposing building a fence across the entire Mexican border and especially for granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. He repeatedly emphasized that he has long fought for conservative causes. He had a strong night, but he has yet to carve out a unique role for himself in the debates.
Herman Cain also did well. He was articulate as usual and refrained from attacking the other candidates. He is inserting more substance into his answers, particularly on social security and his 9-9-9 economic plan. His big moment was when he said, “People say I don’t know how Washington works. I say, yes I do. It doesn’t.” Cain was able to come off more as a credible presidential candidate than he has in the past, but like Santorum, still is struggling to set himself apart from the others.
Jon Huntsman emphasized electability and is trying to turn his moderate positions into an asset. He takes comfort in the fact that Senator John McCain won in 2008, but the Republican Party has moved in the opposite direction in 2012. His biggest applause came when he called for leaving Afghanistan at a quicker pace. He was booed when a joke of his fell flat, saying that Perry’s position on the border is nearly “treasonous.” The poor comedic delivery made it sound like an attack, rather than a wisecrack referencing Perry’s statement that the Federal Reserve was acting “almost treasonous” by printing more money.
Perry is now under the spotlight, and the solidness of his support is being tested. Changes in his poll numbers in the coming days will indicate whether his rivals’ attempts to cause doubt about his conservative credentials and electability are taking a toll. The next debate is September 22. Mark it on your calendars.
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