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Las Vegas debate: Five key exchanges

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The CNN debate was fast and furious for the first hour, a Las Vegas fight night where tempers flared over key issues.

Ethan Miller

GETTY IMAGES

Seven GOP contenders in the CNN debate in Las Vegas, held in the Venetian Hotel's Sands Expo and Convention Center.

In case you missed it, here are the five exchanges that mattered:

9-9-9 IN APPLES AND ORANGES

ROMNEY: Herman, are you saying that the state sales tax will also go away?

CAIN: No, that’s an apple.We’re replacing a bunch of oranges

ROMNEY: Well, but will the people in Nevada not have to pay Nevada sales tax and in addition pay the 9 percent tax?

CAIN: No, no, no, no. You’re going to pay the state sales tax, no matter what. Whether you throw out the existing code and you put in our plan, you’re still going to pay that. That’s apples and oranges.

ROMNEY: Fine. And I’m going to be getting a bushel basket that has apples and oranges in it because I’ve got to pay both taxes, and the people in Nevada don’t want to pay both taxes.

BOTTOM LINE: Cain doesn’t yet have a satisfactory answer as to whether his plan would mean more or less taxes and the fruit analogy only muddies up his catchy slogan. Apples-Apples-Apples to Oranges-Oranges-Oranges?

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CLEARING THE AIR ON RELIGION

PERRY: I have said I didn’t agree with that individual’s statement [Pastor Robert Jeffress]. And our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of — of freedom of religion... That individual expressed an opinion. I didn’t agree with it, Mitt, and I said so.

ROMNEY: With regards to the disparaging comments about my faith, I’ve heard worse, so I’m not going to lose sleep over that. What I actually found most troubling in what the reverend said in the introduction was he said, in choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion.. And it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to be able to say, ‘no, no, that’s wrong, Reverend Jeffress.’ Instead of saying as you did, “Boy, that introduction knocked the ball out of the park,” I’d have said, “Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong. We should select people not based upon their faith.

PERRY: I said I did not agree with the — Pastor Jeffress’s remarks. I don’t agree with them. I — I can’t apologize any more than that.

ROMNEY: That’s fine.

BOTTOM LINE: Perry won’t be under much more pressure to address this issue again given that he apologized to Romney face-to-face. Yet this could still emerge as an under the radar issue for Romney, who has put the onus on Perry to speak out against a religious litmus test.

HEALTH CARE PILE-UP

SANTORUM: ...Governor Romney, you just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare…your plan was the basis for Obamacare. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare. And to say that you’re going to repeal it… you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that. You don’t.

ROMNEY: You know, this I think is either our eighth or ninth debate. And each chance I’ve — I’ve had to talk about Obamacare, I’ve made it very clear, and also in my book. And at the time, by the way, I crafted the plan, in the last campaign, I was asked, is this something that you would have the whole nation do? And I said, no, this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.

SANTORUM: That’s not what you said…Governor, no, that’s not what you said. It was in your book that it should be for everybody….You took it out of your book.

ROMNEY: ... I was in interviews in this debate stage with you four years ago. I was asked about the Massachusetts plan, was it something I’d impose on the nation? And the answer is absolutely not... And I’ve said time and again, Obamacare is bad news. It’s unconstitutional... And if I’m president of the United States, I will repeal it for the American people.

BOTTOM LINE: Romney was attacked from all sides, sometimes at the same time and Santorum got the better of this exchange because he raised the question of whether Romney can be trusted.

IMMIGRATION FLASHBACK

PERRY: You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property. And the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you.

The idea that you can sit here and talk about any of us having an immigration issue is beyond me.

ROMNEY: ...We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there. And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go.

PERRY: A year later?

ROMNEY: You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking. And I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak. So first, let me speak. So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.

BOTTOM LINE: Perry has a bigger immigration problem than Romney and digging up old newspaper clippings won’t change that. But Romney made an unforced error in saying that in addressing the problem, his race for the GOP nod was uppermost in his mind, not the law.

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WHO HAS THE BIGGER JOBS RECORD?

PERRY: Mitt, while you were the governor of Massachusetts in that period of time, you were 47th in the nation in job creation. During that same period of time, we created 20 times more jobs. As a matter of fact, you’d created 40,000 jobs total in your four years. Last two months, we created more jobs than that in Texas.

ROMNEY: Our unemployment rate I got down to 4.7 percent, pretty darn good...With regards to the record in Texas, you probably also ought to tell people that if you look over the last several years, 40 percent, almost half the jobs created in Texas were created for illegal aliens, illegal immigrants.

PERRY: That is an absolute falsehood on its face, Mitt.

ROMNEY: During the four years we were both governors, my unemployment rate in Massachusetts was lower than your unemployment rate in Texas….And I’ll tell you this, the American people would be happy for an individual who can lead the country who’s actually created jobs, not just watching them get created by others, but someone who knows how the economy works because he’s been in it. I have. I’ve created jobs. I’ll use that skill to get America working again. That’s what we want.

BOTTOM LINE: Romney attacked Perry on his main selling point, even using his own slogan against him, and effectively cast him as a passive bystander in the Texas job boom.

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