For Texas Gov. Rick Perry, it’s the marathon campaign schedule that doesn’t allow for any days off. For Rep. Michele Bachmann, it’s the difficulty of getting her message out without spending “gazillions of dollars.” For Herman Cain, it’s the media focus on what he deems “insignificant stuff.” For Rick Santorum, it’s the experience of looking at the Gallup poll and not seeing his name recognition rise.
Those are the things the GOP presidential candidates told Bill O’Reilly that surprised them most about the campaign trail during a “presidential town hall” he held Monday night, a series of ten-minute radio interviews with each of the presidential candidates.
While the subject of the interviews varied, O’Reilly did try to get some of his subjects to weigh in on the sexual harassment accusations against Cain. Santorum called the allegations “disappointing” and sympathized with Cain’s inability to discuss economic issues. Bachmann declined to attack Cain on any personal subjects, though she did still question his anti-abortion record.
Mitt Romney, for his part, tried to avoid the topic entirely. “Obviously the allegations are very serious, but I’ve got no counsel for the Cain campaign,” the former Massachusetts governor told the radio host. About the charges from Perry’s campaign that his operatives were behind the leak, he added: “I don’t have any particular thoughts.”
Cain himself insisted that the O’Reilly interview was the last in which he would discuss the allegations, a statement that likely held little weight since his exchange with the host was pre-taped last week, before Sharon Bialek took the podium with her attorney, Gloria Allred, to describe a situation in which Cain aggressively pursued sexual contact with her.
Even Newt Gingrich, who has been engaged in a mutual admiration society in recent weeks, had trouble responding to the most recent allegations. He said that Cain would need to explain a clear and compelling reason for the latest accusations.
Cain lambasted the original story, saying it should have been dead in “two hours” and alleging the reporters at Politico had no documentation or contact with his accusers. He said his wife is “disgusted” at the charges.
Outside of Cain news, O’Reilly probed the candidates on foreign policy issues. Perry told him the biggest threats to foreign policy were Iran – particularly were it to gain nuclear capabilities – and Syria. He also warned about the dangers presented by drug violence on the southern border with Mexico.
During a question on Pakistan – a topic Perry has struggled with in past debates – Perry said the U.S doesn’t know whether the country is a friend or a foe. He turned the question to the State Department, saying, “I’m not sure our State Department serves us well.” He said in particular he was concerned that career diplomats might not be advising the administration in the best interests of the U.S.
Cain struggled to overcome remarks last week when he asserted that China was trying to develop nuclear weapons, a capability they’ve had for decades.
“What I said was that China was not a nuclear power,” Cain told O’Reilly. “I was talking about the amount of their nuclear capability. I know that they have a nuclear weapon, I know that they have a capability.” He said the difference was “they don’t have a nuclear capability that we have.”
The businessman stressed that he’s learning on the job and pointed to meetings with prominent foreign policy thinkers, including a breakfast with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Animosity between Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and O’Reilly was on full display as the pair sparred on the issue of the U.S. government’s right to kill members of al-Qaida that threaten the U.S. They seemed to come to a tacit agreement at the end that such an act is acceptable, provided the U.S. has properly declared war.
Second-tier candidates Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman were pressed to explain how long they would extend their candidacies in the face of low poll numbers. Santorum encouraged voters to remember former surprise victors Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson from the 2008 election. He said he could support Romney as the nominee, but joked he might have to take an “antacid” if the nomination went to Paul.
Huntsman insisted that he’ll either win New Hampshire or come in second, saying that voters will respond to his focus on jobs.
He also pushed back against O’Reilly’s assertions that he was a moderate, pointing to his anti-abortion and pro-Second Amendment record. “Don’t confuse moderate attitude with moderate record,” he said.
The harshest words of the night were reserved for President Obama, whom Gingrich termed a “radical.” Perry, who had previously credited Obama with Osama bin Laden’s death, denied him that victory by saying that Obama had inherited a strong military along with a bad economy.
“Those Navy SEALS who took out bin Laden they knew what they were doing long time before the president of the United States took office, so please don’t come in here and say I inherited all of these problems,” Perry said.
Romney began pleasantly enough, recalling meeting the president at the annual Washington Gridiron Dinner a few years ago, and telling O’Reilly that Obama had called when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. But the niceties ended there.
On Obama’s assertion that he stabilized the economy, Romney quipped, “That’s like the airplane pilot saying I stabilized the airplane before crashing it into the earth.” He also lambasted former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for what he alleged was a failure to oversee the banking system and then writing bad legislation.
“These guys failed in their job, they should have been thrown out on their rears,” he said.
The three-hour broadcast ended with an unofficial straw poll, where Cain just barely edged out Gingrich for the most votes. Romney came in third, followed by Perry in fourth, with Huntsman taking last place. Paul, O’Reilly said, was disqualified, because his supporters “slammed” the poll – an apparent response to an Internet call to overwhelm the poll with support.
Rodney Hawkins contributed