Republican frontrunner Rick Perry was the main target of criticism at the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The topics included HPV vaccinations, job creation, climate science and Social Security. Questioner Brian Williams even got in on the action with an implied rebuke of Perry on the death penalty.
“I kinda feel like a piñata here at a party,” Texas Governor Perry said as candidates to his left and right were criticizing his decision to require school girls in Texas to obtain the vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease.
“Forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, this is not good medicine, … it's not good social policy,” Texas Congressman Ron Paul said.
But what bothered Paul the most was that Perry used an executive order, rather than going through the Texas legislature to implement the HPV requirement.
“I don't like the idea of executive orders,” Paul added. “I, as president, will not use executive orders to write laws.”
“What I'm very concerned about is parental rights,” Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann added. “When it comes to dealing with children, it is parents who need to make that decision. It is wrong for government, whether it is state or federal government to impose [a requirement] on parents to inoculate their children.”
In his defense, Perry noted that there was an opt-out provision for parents who did not want their children to receive the inoculation.
“I hate cancer,” Perry said. “Cervical cancer is caused by HPV.... We allowed for an opt-out. I don't know what's more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out.”
Perry admitted, however, that he “probably” should have “talked to the legislature.”
“At the end of the day,” Perry added, “I will always err on the side of saving lives.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum sharply rebuked Perry's response: “Governor Perry is out there claiming about state's rights and state's rights. How about parental rights being more important than state's rights? How about instead of having an opt-out, an opt-in?”
“If you really cared, you could make the case, instead of forcing me as a parent … I am offended, that the government would tell me, and by executive order, without even going through the process of letting the people have any kind of input,” he added.
“I would expect this from President Obama, I would not expect this from someone who is calling himself a conservative governor.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came to Perry's defense at that point. “My guess is Governor Perry would like to do it a different way second time through; we've each taken a mulligan or two.... I think his heart was in the right place.”
That would be the only time, however, that Romney, or any other candidate, would defend Perry.
Perry and Romney defended their records on job creation in the opening minutes of the debate. Perry said that Romney has a fine record in the private sector, but did poorly as governor.
“We created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts,” Perry said.
Romney rebutted the accusation by arguing that Perry had little to do with job growth in Texas.
“Texas has zero income tax. Texas is a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican supreme court. Texas has oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, it would be like Al Gore saying that he invented the Internet,” Romney said.
“Michael Dukakis (former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic presidential nominee in 1988) created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Perry retorted.
Romney then quickly parried Perry by saying, “Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush, and his predecessor, created jobs at a faster rate than you did, governor,” to laughter from the audience.
Jon Huntsman compared his own job growth record as the former governor of Utah to that of Perry and Romney. “I hate to rain on the parade of the great lone star governor, but as governor of Utah we were the number one job creator in this country during my years of service. That was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent. And to my good friend Mitt – 47th just ain't gonna cut it my friend, not when you can be first.”
Huntsman also criticized Perry for saying that the scientific evidence is unsettled on human-caused climate change and evolution.
“In order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science,” Huntsman said.
“The idea that we would put American's economy in jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is nonsense,” Perry replied. “Just because you got a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the facts – Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”
On the issue of Social Security reform, Perry was criticized for calling the program a “ponzi scheme.”
“It is a monstrous lie, it is a ponzi scheme, to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, 'you're paying into a program that's going to be there.' Anybody that's for the status-quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids and it's not right,” Perry said.
Romney took issue with Perry's characterization of Social Security as a “failure” “by any measure” in his book, Fed Up. “You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security.”
“Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security. We've always had, at the heart of our party, a recognition that we want to care for those in need,” Romney exclaimed.
Perry was not criticized by only the other candidates. MSNBC reporter Brian Williams implied a condemnation of Perry, and the audience, when he asked a question about the death penalty in Texas.
The crowd applauded when Williams said, “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.”
After Perry answered Williams' question about the death penalty, Williams asked, “What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?” William asked, implying that it was wrong for the crowd to applaud.
“I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed a heinous crime against our citizens … in the state of Texas … you will face the ultimate justice,” Perry said.