Seven GOP presidential candidates showed up in Las Vegas last night for what ended up being the most contentious debate of the campaign cycle. While much of the attention focused on Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, here’s a look at how each candidate fared.
Romney : He was clearly the crowd favorite last night (Nevada has a large Mormon population) and he was also everyone’s top target on stage as well. Rick Santorum landed the cleanest blow on the former Massachussetts governor’s health care plan, saying Romney’s reputation as a fair-weather conservative meant that he couldn’t be trusted to toss out Obama’s health-care law. On the defensive all night, Romney gave as good as he got, yet the hall monitor, “I-went-to-Harvard-tone” could be a problem for Romney down the line.
Perry: The Texas governor gets credit for just showing up and staying engaged after several poor debate performances (Romney was all too eager to remind Perry of those stumbles, calling him “testy”), but he got booed several times by the pro-Romney crowd.
Worst of all was when Perry made the case for his candicacy with this line: “What we need is someone who will draw a bright contrast between themselves and President Obama. And let me tell you one thing: I will draw that bright contrast.”
Cain: The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO went on stage just hours after the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released a report on his 9-9-9 plan would mean a tax hike for the vast majority of Americans and his rivals had clearly done their homework on it.
Perry went colloquial, telling Cain “I’ll bump plans with you, brother, and we’ll see who has the best idea about how you get this country working again.”
Cain’s one line of defense of 9-9-9 continues to be: Everyone else is wrong. His muddled answers on foreign policy (swapping prisoners for an American soldier than saying later he had made a mistake), shows just how fragile Cain is outside of the 9-9-9 wheelhouse.
Santorum: Just as Cain reaped the benefits of Perry’s collapse, if Cain’s support collapses, someone has to be ready for the windfall. Why not Santorum?
By far, the former Pennsylvania senator landed the cleanest punches as he mixed it up with Romney, and his version of social conservatism, backed by his Catholic faith, has been consistent and sincere.
On the question of how the GOP appeals to Latinos, he went to faith and family. And in speaking about some of the anti-Mormon rhetoric, Santorum rejected the idea of a religious litmus test, drawing applause from the crowd.
Bachmann: The Minnesota congresswoman found herself on the far end of the stage having to shout “Anderson, Anderson,” (for moderator Anderon Cooper) several times to get into the brawl between the boys.
Her most effective moment came at the end of the debate in a discussion over home foreclosures. By invoking mothers who are at the “end of their rope because they’re losing their nest for their children and for their family,” she provided a sharp contrast to Romney’s businesslike approach to letting the foreclosure crisis run its course.
While Bachmann, struggling for relevance, didn’t get any applause from the pro-Romney crowd, her remarks highlighted the fact that in a two-hour debate, people, their struggles and their hardships, rarely came up.
Paul: The Texas congressman always shows up in the same way--with a too big jacket (h/t The Fix), an anti-government, anti-Fed, toss-out-the -whole-rule-book-and-start-over attitude.
Last night, he drew applause for criticizing both sides of the aisle over bailing out Wall Street. On Operation Wall Street, Paul said “There’s a lot of people that are victims of this business cycle. We can’t blame the victims,” he said.
“The middle class got stuck. They got stuck. They lost their jobs, and they lost their houses,” Paul said, drawing applause from the crowd.
On military spending, he tossed out a litany of foreign entanglements, advocating for a 15 percent defense cut. “There’s a lot of money spent in the military budget that doesn’t do any good for our defense.”
It was an answer that also drew applause. The Paul Revolution continues.