He also had a very weak moment on Afghanistan. He chided his opponents for equating the Taliban with Al-Qaeda, saying “you can’t mix the two” because the Taliban are only fighting to remove foreign forces from their country.
This was arguably Rick Perry’s best debate. When asked what he wanted to say while Ron Paul was talking, he said, “I was just going to say that I thought the noise you were looking for was a gong,” referring to the sound the moderators use to control the debate. His biggest line of the night was when he was asked about the U.S. soldiers who videotaped themselves urinating on dead Taliban fighters. He said that they should be punished but that the reaction was overblown. “You want to know what’s despicable? Cutting off Daniel Pearl’s head,” Perry said, referring to the beheading of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan in 2001.
Perry was also asked about the Islamist government of Turkey and how it has been supporting Hamas and violating women’s rights and press freedom. He said that Turkey is now ruled by “what some would call Islamic terrorists” and said that a discussion of whether it should remain in NATO is appropriate. He also said he’d end foreign aid to Turkey and all countries and force them to justify future funding.
The clashes between the candidates were relatively minor. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney attacked Newt Gingrich’s Social Security plan based on the Chilean model. Santorum said it would add to the debt and was “fiscal insanity.” Gingrich replied that he’d pay for it by consolidating 185 federal bureaucracies for low-income Americans.
Romney and Gingrich butted heads a bit over the Super PACs supporting them. Gingrich said “it would be nice if he [Romney] exercised leadership” over his former donors and staff members running attack ads and said that if he has no influence over PACs supporting him, then “it makes you wonder how much influence he’d have as president.” Romney replied that he has called on falsehoods in ads to be pulled and that it would be illegal for him to call the PACs and tell them to stop.
Ron Paul said that he couldn’t fit all of his criticisms of Santorum in his attack ad, prompting a back-and-forth. Santorum accused Paul of relying on radical left-wing groups for the claims in the ad. Santorum and Romney also argued over his record on allowing criminals to vote. Perry also criticized Romney’s time at Bain for job losses in South Carolina, which Romney attributed to unfair trade practices with China.
Overall, the debate was an entertaining show, but it is hard to see why it would result in any changes in the polls. No candidate stumbled badly enough to lose supporters and no candidate offered a new rationale for voters to join their team. The next debate is on Thursday and if nothing big happens, it could very well be the last one before Romney becomes the inevitable nominee.
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