The debate came at another time of change in the race for the Republican nomination. For the first time, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) assumed one of the center positions onstage, an acknowledgment of his sudden rise in the polls. He used his newfound status as the leader in two polls to effectively display his experience in dealing with national security issues.
But an answer on immigration, in which he said he does not think that the nation should deport many of the millions of immigrants who have been in the country illegally for years, could put him at odds with some conservatives in his party — the same issue that caused problems for Texas Gov. Rick Perry earlier this fall. After the debate, Gingrich defended himself against possible criticism, saying he was not advocating an amnesty program.
The tone of the debate, the 11th among the candidates this year, was largely civil, and the session ranged widely on both domestic and international issues, though there was no discussion of the European debt crisis and little attention paid to China. Despite the differences that emerged, the majority of the candidates offered a generally more hawkish view of the world than that enunciated by the Obama administration.
In contrast to some previous debates, Tuesday’s forum is likely to have only a limited impact on the overall race. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney once again delivered a solid performance.
Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) stood out by disagreeing most significantly with the other candidates. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. used the opportunity to take on his rivals, especially Romney.
The debate was held at DAR Constitution Hall in the District and was sponsored by CNN, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer served as the moderator, with questions from AEI and Heritage scholars. Eight candidates participated. The others were business executive Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.).
Romney, Huntsman spar
One of the sharpest exchanges came between Romney and Huntsman over Afghanistan. Romney argued that Obama was moving too rapidly to bring out U.S. troops and said he favors maintaining a substantial presence for several more years.
Asked his view, Huntsman said, “I totally disagree.” He said money that is being spent on the war in Afghanistan could be better used rebuilding the U.S. economy.