MANCHESTER, N.H. — Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul engaged in a very personal exchange in Saturday night’s debate in which Paul criticized the former House speaker for not serving in the military.
Paul has repeatedly criticized Gingrich for taking a deferment during the Vietnam War, calling him a “chickenhawk” for having no problem sending young men to war despite his lack of service. And Gingrich took exception to it during the debate.
Gingrich noted that he comes from a military family — an “Army brat” — and said he wasn’t eligible for the draft because he was married with a child. And then appeared to get a little choked up recalling his father’s service.
“I think I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like as a family to worry about your father getting killed,” Gingrich said. “And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with.”
Despite Gingrich’s emotion, Paul didn’t back down.
“When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids,” Paul said. “And I went.”
Paul and Gingrich have battled repeatedly during the course of the campaign, but they hadn’t previously engaged each other in such a direct and personal way.
In fact, the exchange was among the more uncomfortable moments of the entire campaign, one in which the normally practiced candidates both appeared to let their emotions get the better of them.