Although Perry has had relatively little experience in such a setting, he was at ease — and occasionally combative. The Texas governor appeared unflustered and unapologetic as he took fire on his record and on some of the inflammatory statements he has made.
After declaring Social Security “a monstrous lie to our kids” and “a Ponzi scheme,” Perry added: “Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country.”
Where the candidates sparred most directly, however, was over the issue of job creation.
“We put the model in place in the state of Texas. When you look at what we have done over the last decade, we created 1 million jobs,” Perry said, contending that Texas has generated more jobs in the past three months than Massachusetts did in the four years it was governed by Romney. Perry added that under Romney, Massachusetts “had one of the lowest job-creation rates in the country.”
Romney shot back that Texas — unlike Massachusetts — has been blessed with abundant natural resources, low taxes and a long-standing regulatory environment that is friendly to business.
“Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things,” Romney said. “If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet” — a reference to a famous misquote that Republicans have long used to criticize the former vice president.
Romney said his success in the business world — something Perry does not share aside from a stint as a family farmer — has given him experience “succeeding, failing, competing around the world [and] the capacity to help get this economy going again.”
Unlike in previous debates, in which he has largely been unscathed, Romney was roughed up by his rivals.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who has been struggling to register in the polls, seemed particularly eager to take on Romney and Perry.
“I hate to rain on the parade of the Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator in this country during my years of service,” Huntsman said.
Referring to where Romney’s state ranked during that same period, Huntsman added: “To my good friend Mitt, 47 just ain’t going to cut it, my friend, not when you can be first.”
In addition to confronting one another, the candidates were framing their arguments with an eye to the speech on job creation that President Obama is scheduled to give Thursday night before a joint session of Congress.
Romney tried to get a jump on his Republican rivals and Obama by releasing a 59-point economic plan the day before the debate.