Top Moments from the Tea Party Debate

In the very first Tea Party-sponsored GOP debate, Michele Bachmann needs to keep her public profile. Read the highlights from tonight’s debate.

09.12.11 11:58 PM ET

Perry, Romney Tangle Over Social Security

It took 12 minutes before the first question in the GOP debate, but the fireworks came early. Mitt Romney, while agreeing that Social Security ought to reformed, blasted Rick Perry for referring to the program as a Ponzi scheme and suggested that Perry’s recent turn—saying that it simply needed to be reformed—didn’t square with the view expressed in Perry’s book Fed Up! (that the program was unconstitutional overall), as Perry refused to look at Romney. The two tangled further, citing rival quotes from each other’s books. Perry’s harsh words about Social Security and the New Deal played well with the audience of Tea Party activists in Tampa, but the exchange did little to answer Romney’s charge that calling Social Security unconstitutional could scare off general-election voters.

Ron Paul and Rick Perry Quarrel

For all the attention focused on the mutual dislike between frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the most interesting feud maybe a Texas squabble between Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry. Paul, during a discussion of economic policy, quipped, “I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes,” adding that his taxes had gone up during Perry’s governorship. If Perry seemed ruffled, it wasn’t the first time. During the debate last week, a photographer snapped images of the two men in what appeared to be a heated debate between segments.

Candidates Share Economic Recovery Plans

What would the Republican contenders do to fix the economy? There won’t be any jawdropping new ideas from this debate. Jon Huntsman summarized the economic plan he released two weeks ago. Michele Bachmann stuck to her refrain of repealing Obama’s health-reform plan, saying, “It’s easy to turn around the economy. Just have the backbone to do it.” Rick Perry said, falsely, that the 2009 stimulus bill created zero bills. And Herman Cain returned to the 9-9-9 plan—referring to proposed income, corporate income, and national sales tax rates—that he discussed in the last debate. The silver lining: another opportunity for Perry and Romney to tangle, with Romney accusing Perry of getting lucky. Ron Paul, meanwhile, returned to his favorite theme: saving money by ending foreign wars.

Bachmann, Others Pound Perry on HPV

It’s small consolation, perhaps, but you know you’re the frontrunner when everyone is out to get you. Just ask Rick Perry. The Texas governor must be getting sick of defending his decision to mandate HPV vaccines for all sixth-grade girls (the order was later overturned). Perry says he should have gone through the legislature, but says he’s proud of his stand against cancer. That got him a wave of harsh criticism from the other candidates, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann, who’s otherwise been a nonentity. The Minnesotan got in perhaps the best line of the night when she accused Perry of having mandated the shots to please Merck, a donor to his campaign. “If you're saying I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," he said. Bachmann shot back: "I'm offended for the little girls." Zing!

Bachmann Comes Alive in Second Half

One of the big story lines from last week’s debate was Rep. Michele Bachmann’s sudden fade. And Monday night, it looked like she’d be a non-entity again. But now Bachmann is on the war path, with an assist from moderator Wolf Blitzer. First, she blasted Rick Perry over his HPV executive order. The next set of questions concerned healthcare, giving her a chance to hit her signature issue—repealing “Obamacare.” And then Blitzer served up a softball. After Perry defended a program that offers illegal aliens in Texas in-state tuition in college, the moderator bounced to Bachmann for a rebuttal. She delivered, saying, “That is not the American way.” Bachmann’s stock has faded recently, but perhaps she’s not as moribund as rumored.

Santorum Calls Latinos ‘Illegals’ During Question About Outreach

 An audience member at the GOP debate had valid question: How would the candidates reach out to Latinos? Former Sen. Rick Santorum gave a succinct example of how not to do so.  “What what Gov. Perry has done is he provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, maybe that was an attempt to attract illegal—I mean Latino—voters,” Santorum said. It was obviously a slip of the tongue, but Santorum—who otherwise might have common ground with many Hispanics over their shared Catholicism—likely didn’t win himself many votes from La Raza.