(Reuters/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Sticking to his middle of the road strategy, Mitt Romney held off attacks from Texas Governor Rick Perry and others at Thursday’s Fox News/Google debate in Orlando, Fla. But Perry, who is leading in recent polls, took the brunt of impact with attacks coming from all sides, especially on immigration.
It was obvious from the beginning that most of the back-and-forth jabs were between Romney and Perry, making former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman wonder if either of the two would survive their battle wounds suffered in the debate.
Healthcare and Social Security, by far the two major issues of past debates, occupied much of the candidates’ time once more. Perry challenged Romney on healthcare, saying that Romney conveniently left out a sentence on why his Massachusetts healthcare plan was good for America in the paperback version of his book. Romney, meanwhile, stepped up his attacks by suggesting that Perry had changed his views on Social Security.
“There’s a Rick Perry out there that is saying – and almost to quote, it says that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that it’s unconstitutional and should be returned to the states. You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that,” said an irritated Romney.
Perry responded by saying that Americans should not be concerned about Social Security, adding that the program should be strengthened and would never be dismantled.
Of the more interesting topics of the debate, Romney was asked if he thought President Obama was a socialist. Romney skirted the issue by saying, “Let me tell you the title that I want to hear said about him: that is, former President Barack Obama.”
“He (Obama) takes his political inspiration from Europe and from the socialist democrats in Europe. Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe,” Romney added in response to the question.
The format was different than prior GOP debates. Bret Baier of Fox moderated the debate and his colleagues, Megan Kelly and Chris Wallace, served as panelists. However, questions were submitted through YouTube and via text messages.
While Social Security and healthcare were covered, the most important issues according to pre-debate polls were the economy and jobs.
Romney, responding to a YouTube question on job creation, continued his assault on the president’s record, saying, “Obama has done everything wrong. To create jobs, it has helped to have a job.” He was referring to Obama’s sketchy work history before entering politics.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whose stage presence appears to have diminished after Perry entered the race, aggressively addressed the immigration issue by saying she would build a fence on the border and enforce immigration laws that are already on the books.
“It’s reprehensible that President Obama has sued the state of Arizona and the governor of Arizona for trying to protect the people of Arizona,” Bachmann said. “That’s wrong. As President of the United States I would build a fence on America’s southern border, on every mile, on every yard, on every foot, on every inch of the southern border. I think that’s what we have to do.”
Atlanta Businessman Herman Cain, when asked about his 9-9-9 plan (9 percent on corporate, income and a national sales tax), said it was a “bold solution that throws out the tax code.” Cain was also critical of Romney’s plan, saying it won’t work because it keeps the current tax code in place.
Former New Mexico Governor and newcomer Gary Johnson had the line of the evening. Speaking in reference to President Obama’s “shovel-ready” construction programs, Johnson quipped, “My neighbor’s two dogs have produced more ‘shovel’ ready programs than Obama has.”
Both candidates and the audience got a laugh when Perry responded to a question about potential running mates, saying it would be “interesting” to merge Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich to create an ideal vice president.
The GOP candidates have yet another chance to address conservatives gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference event on Friday and the all-day event will include a straw poll of the nine candidates who appeared in Thursday’s debate.