Unsurprisingly, red meat and clever quips played better to the assembled audience than nitty-gritty policy debates or proposals.
Some of the biggest applause of the night went to Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his support of the death penalty. The audience responded favorably even before Perry spoke, when moderator Brian Williams noted that the governor has overseen a record 234 executions while in office.
Asked if he was surprised by the enthusiastic response, Perry got more applause for saying that he had no doubts about any of those sentences — and for noting that a majority of Americans support the death penalty. “Americans understand justice,” Perry said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got a huge burst of applause for his own pet cause — critiquing the questions/questioner/debate format. While he was an afterthought for much of the night, Gingrich got an enthusiastic response when he declared: “I will repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans fighting one another.”
And former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum got a positive response for telling Perry that family rights should trump state rights when it comes to the HPV vaccine.
Both Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won appreciative laughter for their back-and-forth on jobs — but more for their jokes more than their proposals.
Romney was rewarded for comparing Perry to former vice president Al Gore, Perry for saying Romney’s record was more dismal than that of former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.
Even former Utah governor Jon Huntsman got some audience love when he chimed in that his state beat both Massachusetts and Texas in job creation.
Notably, the normally fiery Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) got few questions and did not use them very well — she had no memorable applause lines.
What lines did we miss?