It was good and vigorous debate. Tough, smart, and fair questions from the moderator, Wolf Blitzer. Tough, smart, and fair questions from members of the Tea Party audience. And generally an evening of clear and direct responses from the candidates.
As expected, Gov. Rick Perry was attacked early and aggressively on Social Security. And Perry went a long way toward reassuring viewers and voters that he has no intention of changing the program in any way for current or even near retirees. Even though former governor Mitt Romney likened Social Security to criminal fraud in his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, he showed no inhibition in attacking Perry on the issue. I don’t think Perry put the issue to bed, but he sent it upstairs to get into PJs.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, clearly responding to a dip in the polls as a result of Perry’s entrance into the race, came with guns loaded and furiously launched broadsides at him at every opportunity. She went after Perry on Texas immigration laws and joined Rep. Ron Paul in criticizing him for a program to provide HPV vaccines for middle-school-aged girls. And she struck some strong chords with the Tea Party crowd.
Romney was smooth and solid. Newt Gingrich continues to school the field. Paul’s fidelity to a philosophy once again makes him look consistent but cranky and out of the mainstream. Rick Santorum had some good moments. Jon Huntsman had some responses fall flat. And Herman Cain continued to boost his candidacy for secretary of commerce.
With so much focus on knocking Perry down from his perch, Romney skated easily. And President Obama took fewer hits than the Texas governor.