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Some Notes on Tonight’s Debate

11:59 PM, Nov 12, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum had pretty credible performances in tonight’s CBS/National Journal debate in South Carolina. Tonight’s Republican presidential primary match-up was focused on foreign policy and national security.

Gingrich and Romney were both strong on Iran, as the Washington Post notes:

“If all else fails, if after all of the work we’ve done, there’s nothing else we could do besides take military action. Then of course you take military action,” Romney said.

Gingrich agreed: “If in the end, despite all of those things, the dictatorship persists, you have to take whatever steps are necessary to break its capacity to have a nuclear weapon.”

Romney put the issue of whether Iran will acquire nuclear weapons in stark terms: “If we [re]elect Barack Obama, Iran will have nuclear weapons. If you elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me, they will not.”

Santorum, too, noted the importance of dealing with Iran. “This is the most important national security issue, the Iranian nuke,” Santorum said. The former Pennsylvania senator went on to blast the Obama and Bush administrations for not adequately dealing with the threat: “President Bush and President Obama did not give money to the pro-democracy movement in Iran. Sanctions are not going to be enough. You need to read the IAEA report. We should be working with Israel right now. Take out the nuclear capability. We need to stop this before we have a nuclear explosion in Iran and the world changes.”

Overall, Bachmann’s performance was solid. The Minnesota congresswoman’s best line was about Occupy Wall Street and Israel. “President Obama has been more than willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street,” Bachmann said, “but he hasn’t been willing to stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama, and they do not see a friend.”

Rick Perry laughed off his famous flub from Wednesday’s CBS debate, as National Journal notes:

Perry was quick to cut off CBS’ Scott Pelley, one of the debate moderators in South Carolina, when he began a question, saying, “Governor Perry, you advocate the elimination of the Department of Energy. If you eliminate the Department of Energy...”

“I'm glad you remembered it,” interjected Perry with a big smile as the audience broke into applause and laughter. Pelley responded, “I've had some time to think about it, sir.” And Perry shot back again to even more laughter, “Me, too.”

At least tonight, Perry’s seemingly canned line worked.

As for Jon Huntsman, his performance in tonight’s debate appeared not to be of any particular consequence. Obama’s former ambassador to China seemed to do an adequate job of parroting the president, particularly when Huntsman stated that he “take[s] a different approach on Afghanistan" than the rest of the Republican candidates and that he “[doesn’t] want to be nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so needs to be built.” Huntsman’s line was reminiscent of what Obama said when he announced a troop drawdown from Afghanistan: “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”

Herman Cain, as Republican consultant Mike Murphy noted, had a “wobbly night.” “Every answer [of Cain’s was] one inch deep at best,” Murphy tweeted.

The biggest loser in tonight’s Republican presidential debate was CBS moderator Scott Pelley. The evening newsreader and 60 Minutes contributor was pedantic and off-putting, even frequently interrupting candidates mid-sentence to declare that time had expired and the debate would be moving on. At one point, Pelley even took on Gingrich about a factual point. The former speaker of the House corrected and dismissed Pelley, resulting in huge applause from the South Carolina audience.

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