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In Monday's Republican primary debate, the seven other presidential candidates again were gunning for Rick Perry, who tried to deflect their attacks with all folksy charm in his Reaganesque brown suit. Mitt Romney called Perry's position that Social Security is an unconstitutional fraud "over the top and and unnecessary and frightful" and then hammered the Texan for having an immigration policy that was too lefty. And with his extensive debate experience--he's been running for president for most of the past decade--Romney made Perry look amateurish at times, reminding him at one point that this was the right moment to discuss tough issues, because "We're running for president."

Grandma's favorite Ponzi scheme
Romney: ... But the real question is does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states or is he going to retreat from that view?
 
Perry: If what you’re trying to say is that back in the 30s and the 40s that the federal government made all the right decision, I disagree with you. And it’s time for us to get back to the constitution and a program that’s been there 70 or 80 years, obviously we're not going to take that program away. But for people to stand up and support what they did in the 30s or what they’re doing in the 2010s is not appropriate for America.
 
Romney: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from that?
 
Perry: I think we ought to have a conversation.
 
Romney: We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president.
 
Competing visions of sexual depravity in Texan public schools
 
But the Romney-Perry fight didn't provide all the fun. Michele Bachmann was determined not to be overshadowed again. She and Rick Santorum attacked Perry on his decision, by executive order, to require human papillomavirus vaccinations in public schools. HPV has been linked to cervical cancer--and Perry says he was just trying to protect life. But, of course, HPV is first and foremost an sexually transmitted disease, and not everyone wants to reduce the risks of sexual activity for sinful teenagers.
 
In attacking Perry, Bachmann implied that the great state of Texas was molesting tweens:
Bachmann: I'm a mom of three children. And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.
While Santorum implied orgies in high school hallways:
Santorum: Ladies and gentlemen, why do we inoculate people with vaccines in public schools?  Because we're afraid of those diseases being communicable between people at school. And therefore, to protect the rest of the people at school, we have vaccinations to protect those children.
 
Unless Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum, then there is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government. 
 
The limits of folksiness
 
Bachmann then accused Perry of pushing for the vaccine because it would make a lot of money for one of his campaign donors.
Perry: The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them.  I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000 -- [long pause, eyebrows raised] I'm offended.
Here, Perry ran into the limits of his charm. It was clear that he wanted applause from the audience, but the rowdy crowd seemed a bit confused. Perry's timing was a little off, making it sound like he wasn't offended by the suggestion he was bought, but by the charge he could be bought for such a measly price: I may be a whore, but I'm not a cheap whore.
 
Immigration
 
Romney worked to cast himself as the competent, clear-headed problem solver, and Perry as the wacky ideologue, but on the subject of illegal immigration, the roles were reversed. Perry explained that his immigration policies were pragmatic--"the idea that you’re going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality." Texas granted in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants, Perry said, because the question is, "Are we going to give people an incentive to be contributing members of this society or are we going to tell them no, we’re going to put you on the government dole?" Romney's response was glib:
Romney: With regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give instate tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America's great beneficence. 
(A mere 700-mile fence would cost $49 billion or so, not counting the cost of land.)
 
It pays to work in entertainment
 
Herman Cain, the pizza magnate, frequently cited his management of the National Restaurant Association as one of his qualifications to be president. But it's his experience as a radio host that has helped him most. Cain has been criticized for his lack of public policy depth, and that was on display last night. Still, he knew how to get applause lines. When asked how he'd make American less dependent on foreign oil, he took a shot at the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
On the question of how he'd lower health care costs, Cain forgot his own proposals for a second. Cain wants a flat income tax of 9 percent--that means no tax credits. From the transcript:
Cain: First, repeal Obamacare in its entirety.
 
(APPLAUSE)
 
Santorum:  Amen.
 
Cain:  Secondly, pass market-driven, patient-centered reforms such as, under the current code, deductibility of health insurance premiums regardless of who pays for it.  
Oops.
Cain: But as you know, I want to throw that out and put in my 9-9-9 [tax] plan.
 
A foreign policy debate lefties could only dream of in 2003
 
Ron Paul was a crowd favorite, and many of the Tea Partiers seemed to tailor their questions just for them--"Would you abolish the Fed?" for example. But Paul pissed off a lot of people in the audience when he said American foreign policy was to blame for terrorists attacks--the kind of argument you'd hear on the most lefty public radio shows during the Bush administration that liberals only dreamed their wussy candidates would make. But check out this exchange between Santorum and Paul:
Santorum:  We are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions.  We were attacked, as Newt talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists.  And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for.  And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that.
 
Paul:  As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger.  This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true.
 
Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit -- they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing...
 
(BOOING)
 
I didn’t say that.  I’m trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years.
 
Would you be annoyed?  If you’re not annoyed, then there’s some problem.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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