You know what you do when you're in a race? Go for the top dog. And that is exactly what the Republican presidential candidates did in Monday night's CNN/Tea Party debate in Florida.
Aggressively, the other candidates gunned for front-running Texas Gov. Rick Perry en masse, seeking to undermine his conservative credentials by attacking his positions on his controversial 2007 push to vaccinate Texas schoolgirls against human papillomavirus (a common sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer), illegal immigration and Social Security.
Bachmann Led the Charge
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who's seen her standing take a small hit since Perry joined the race, led the charge.
To have innocent little 12-year-old girls to be forced to have government injections through an executive order is just flat-out wrong, Bachmann said. She also said she was offended by Perry's executive order, which included opt-out provisions for parents who did not want the vaccine.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum agreed.
This is big government run amok, Santorum said to applause. It is bad policy and it should not have been done.
Perry meekly responded that he regretted his decision to push the vaccine using executive order, but that he was just trying to stand up to cancer.
A the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life, Perry said. At the end of the day this was about trying to solve cancer.
The night's Clear Winner: Romney
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who also took a couple of jabs at Perry, was the night's real winner. He was crisp, clear, focused. And aggressive where Perry is concerned.
Romney proved yet again that he is the best debater in this field with another solid performance in which he effectively downplayed his liabilities on health care and accentuated his strengths on jobs and the economy, Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza said.
Romney challenged Perry on Social Security, the night's first question, which Perry called a Ponzi scheme and a failure. Romney suggested this view, and many others, is the reason that Perry is unelectable. Perry refused to back down on his comments and, when he wanted to have a conversation on the subject, Romney cut him short, saying We're having that [conversation] right now, governor. ... We're running for president.
But Romney's (perhaps slightly trivial) winning point came in the form of his answer to the what-would-you-bring-to-the-White-House question, saying:
You know, one of -- one of my heroes was a man who had an extraordinary turn of phrase. He once said about us, he said, you know, you can count on the Americans to get things right after they've exhausted all the alternatives. And now and then we've made couple of mistakes. We're quite a nation. And this man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office. And if I'm president of the United States, it'll be there again.
2012 GOP Nomination Race Score Card:
Here's how the other candidates stacked up:
Ron Paul: Paul is in last place for earning the most boos of the night, primarily for two huge reasons. No. 1: He suggested that American foreign policy helped contribute to the Sept. 11 attacks. Probably not the wisest time to speak unfiltered. After all, the comments came only a day after the commemoration the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a time when most Americans tapped into their patriotism. He also made the argument to slash military funding. Paul showed why his followers love him, but proved why he can never win this party's nomination. Republicans are big on their military.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator seemed to be the unexpected surprise, citing his own record on Social Security reform. He sounded rational on the U.S. Federal Reserve, urging that it focus solely on sound money. But his highlight of the night was standing up to Ron Paul. The exchange came when Santorum said an article on Paul's Web site basically blamed the United States for 9/11.
Santorum said the U.S. was attacked by Muslim Jihadists not because of what it did, but because of who it is and what it stands for: We stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that.
Michele Bachmann: Still smarting from her fall in rank, the Minnesota congresswoman, in her traditional style, made her positions well known. She's smart (she proved that in her first GOP debate), but the show really was all about Romney and Perry. Based on last night's performance, Bachmann's rank in the race is essentially the same: she's No 3.
Jon Huntsman: While Huntsman should have listed the numerous accomplishments during his tenure as Utah governor, namely his administration's friendliness toward businesses, and backing up this statement: Certainly everyone knows everything is bigger in Texas, and I know all the smart people reside in Massachusetts, but Utah was No. 1 in job creation. Instead, he tried to be funny, and failed miserably. His notable unfunny? Taking a swing at Mitt Romney's memoir No Apology saying, I don't know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not ... The reference, if you haven't gotten in by now, was to a song written by the '90s-era rocker titled No Apologies.
Herman Cain: Unlike Huntsman, the Georgia businessman proved he is funny -- or at least the audience thought he was. When asked what they would bring to the White House if elected, Cain said: I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America's too uptight! On a political note, he mentioned his 9-9-9 plan several times, but without really telling us how it would benefit the country.
Newt Gingrich: Former Speaker Gingrich kept his focus on President Barack Obama, the main target in previous GOP debates, citing loopholes in response to Obama's tax-oriented jobs bill. (That informed viewers/voters that Gingrich is smart and has a grasp of a wide assortment of issues.)