Eight Republican presidential candidates debated Monday in Tampa, Fla., and for the second time in less than one week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the punching bag, coming under attack for everything from his remarks that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” to his decision to sign an executive order mandating that Texas schoolgirls be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer.
Continually on the defensive -- and, at one point, booed by a largely tea party audience for his defense of a law allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants -- Perry has few opportunities to tout his record or take on his Republican rivals.
As with last week’s debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, the night began with a vigorous back and forth between Romney and Perry, this time over the issue of Social Security. In a fast-paced exchange, Romney asked Perry to stand by his assertion that Social Security was unconstitutional or "retreat." Perry assured current Social Security recipients that he would maintain the program for them and accused Romney of trying to scare seniors.
Romney wasn’t alone in his attacks on Perry – in fact, for much of the night he was able to sit back and let other candidates on the stage chip away at the new frontrunner. Bachmann and Santorum weighed in with impassioned criticisms of Perry’s vaccination mandate, and Bachmann also told Perry that giving tuition breaks to children of illegal immigrants was "not the American way.”
Bachmann, who disappeared into the background at the last debate, got plenty of air time with her attacks, and made an impassioned argument for repealing the health care law.
The next Republican presidential debate: Sept. 22 in Orlando. It kicks off a weekend gathering of Florida Republicans that culminates with a straw poll.
Our live blog of the Monday night debate follows:
9:49 p.m. Final question is a softball: What would you bring to the White House? Santorum, the father of seven, would bring his large family -- and extra beds; Gingrich would kick out the White House czars to make more room. Paul gets raucous applause when he says he'd bring common sense and a book of Austrian economics. Perry charmingly gives a shout-out to his "beautiful, incredible" wife. Romney would bring a bust of Winston Churchill. Bachmann would bring copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Cain would bring a sense of humor. Huntsman would bring his Harley and motocross bike.
9:45 p.m. Perry’s answer to the question about Afghanistan: he says we need to get troops out as soon as possible but we should transition to making sure Afghan troops can protect their own people and help the country build infrastructure.
9:43 p.m. A young woman who identifies herself as being from Afghanistan asked what the candidates would do to protect women and children in the country. Huntsman thanks U.S. servicemembers for their work, but says it’s time to get out of Afghanistan so that the U.S. can stop its core from crumbling. Ten years after 9/11, the candidates are getting big cheers when they call for bringing the troops home.
9:41 p.m. A harsh attack on Paul from Santorum, who accused Paul of writing a blog post on his website that said U.S. actions brought on 9/11. “Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States -- someone who is running for the president of the United States and the Republican party should not be parroting what Osama bin laden said on 9/11.” Paul defends what he wrote – that bin Laden said al-Qaida attacked the U.S. because it put bases in Saudi Arabia and bombed and killed Iraqis. He got huge boos from the audience.
9:40 p.m. Paul draws a line between defense and military spending as he argues for a drawdown for America's foreign wars. He calls for an end to nation-building, and says that most of the danger the United States faces comes from “our lack of wisdom on how we run our foreign policy.”
9:37 p.m. A question about coal and energy independence gives the candidates a chance to bash the Environmental Protection Agency. Cain calls it an “EPA gone wild.”
9:35 p.m. Romney criticizes both Perry's in-state tuition program and Huntsman's driver privilege card. Latino voters know in their hearts that they and their ancestors "did not come here for a handout," says Romney. "If they came for a handout than they'd be voting for Democrats."
9:33 p.m. After Perry defends the Texas law about in-state tuition, Huntsman takes a swipe: “Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can't secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.” He goes on to defend a Utah law that granted driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
9:31 p.m. Perry gets big boos for defending a law that gives in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. “The bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. That's what we've done in the state of Texas.” The crowd was not pleased – nor was Bachmann. “I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally.”
9:28 p.m. Perry has not and likely will not back down from his position that a borderlong fence is impractical. He supports it in metropolitan areas, but again calls for 4,500 additional border patrol agents and 1,500 National Guard troops to help secure the border. “We understand and know how to secure that border, but we can’t do it alone and the federal government has to step up and do what their constitutional duty is.”
9:27 p.m. Zeroing in on an issue that has created fissures among the candidates, a questioner asks, “what would you do to remove the illegal immigrants from our country? The rundown: Santorum says he believes in legal immigration. “Unlike Governor Perry, I think we need to build more fence.” He says no throwing people out or providing amnesty until the border is secured. In the meantime, enforce laws for employers.
9:20 p.m. In her strongest moment so far, Bachmann makes an impassioned pitch for repealing Obamacare at every level.“This is it. This is the election that’s going to decide whether we have socialized medicine in this country," she says. She says that repealing Obamacare is the reason why she's running for president of the United States.
9:20 p.m. The crowd has little sympathy for people who can’t or won’t buy health insurance. Blitzer has the candidates consider a hypothetical situation in which a healthy 30-year-old needs intensive care for six months but doesn’t have health insurance. “Are you saying that society should just let him die?” he asks Paul. A few in the audience cheer. Paul says the hospital never turned people away when he practiced medicine and talked about the lack of competition field as a major problem. “We should legalize alternative health care,” he says. “Allow people to practice what they want.”
9:17 p.m. Romney's first response to the accusations of Obama using his health care plan as a model: "Be careful about trusting what President Obama says, as to what the source was of his plan.” Then he accuses the president of raising taxes by $500 billion.
9:16 p.m. Perry can’t resist pointing out that Romney’s healthcare reform in MA was the blueprint for Obamacare. Perry adds, “and frankly I don’t think it was right for Massachusetts.” He adds that he agrees that states should have the ability to set their own healthcare plans.
9:14 p.m. Romney on healthcare: he that healthcare needs to act more like a market and less like “a government utility” if costs are ever to go down. On Massachusetts care, Romney said he’s running for President, not Governor; and that he would work to abolish Obamacare. He adds that he believes Obama’s healthcare reform to be unconstitutional.
9:13 p.m. Cain calls for market-driven healthcare reform and the end of Obamacare to rein in healthcare costs. Every mention of repealing Obamacare wins a big response from the crowd.
9:12 p.m. Santorum follows up on Bachmann’s attack on the vaccine, suggesting that it's necessary only if Texas schoolchildren are sexually active: “This is big government run amok. It is bad policy and it should not have been done." Perry looks uncharacteristically nonplussed, but repeats his argument that he was trying to protect lives. "I have been the most pro-life governor in the state of Texas," he says.
9:11 p.m. The exchange between Bachmann and Perry is worth posting in full: Perry was allowed to follow up on Bachmann's insinuation that he ordered the vaccinations to benefit the manufacturer of the vaccine:
Perry: "The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."
Bachmann: "Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice."
9:10 p.m. Perry is asked to follow up on whether the vaccine was a mandate, as Bachmann suggested. He says it wasn’t: Parents can opt-out. Bachmann cuts in to suggest corruption on Perry’s part, pointing out that the drug company that produced the vaccine gave thousands of dollars in donations to Perry.
9:08 p.m. Bachmann pounces, slamming the Texas vaccination program a system of dangerous injections "forced upon little girls" by the government.
9:07 p.m. Perry was asked whether he made a mistake in using an executive order to mandate vaccinations for Texas schoolgirls against a virus that causes cervical cancer. “It was, indeed, and if I had to do it over again I would do it differently...but what was driving me was obviously making a difference about young people’s lives.” He says he should have gone to the legislature first. And, challenging Paul's complaints aboutthe overuse of executive orders, he promises to use an executive order to get rid of “as much of Obamacare as I can on day one.”
9:03 p.m. Romney gets specific: pledges to dramatically reduce middle class Americans by eliminating taxes on interest for capital gains.
9:00 p.m. Huge applause for a question from a teenager in the audience: “For every dollar that I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?” Huntsman calls for flattening out the tax code, and warns people about the debt – he calls it a “cancer.” He also asks the teenager to make sure his generation is active in the election.
8:59 p.m. Romney gets a chance. He calls for more oversight over the Fed, but defends its existence. “If we don’t have a Fed, who’s going to run the currency. Congress? I’m not a fan of that.” Romney's defense of the Fed is met with stony silence from the crowd.
8:58 p.m. Perry follows up on his old remarks: “I think that is a very clear statement of fact." He knocks the Fed under the Obama administration, accusing it of working to cover up Obama's failed economic policies.
8:57 p.m. Blitzer to Bachmann: do you agree with Rick Perry that Bernanke could be tried for treason? (Huge applause from the crowd). She ducks, just saying she wouldn’t reappoint him, and pivots to how the agency needs to be made much smaller. When Blitzer asks again, she says “that’s for Governor Perry to make that decision.”
8:54 p.m. A Tea Party member in the audience asks about the Federal Reserve. First response goes to Santorum: he says make it a single charter instead of a dual charter (he explains – don’t have the Fed deal with unemployment, just sound money.) He would also like to go back and clarify how bad he thinks the economy is: “My feeling is it would have to make a dramatic improvement just to be a disaster.”
8:50 p.m. Huntsman plugs his jobs plan and includes digs at Perry and Romney: "I know everything's bigger in Texas and Rick likes to talk that way. I know all the smart people reside in Massachusetts," but Huntsman says that under his leadership Utah was "the best managed state in America."
8:49 p.m. A question from CNNpolitics.com asks if the candidates can be pro-worker. Cain says yes, because he used to be a worker. “I came from a pro-worker family,” he says – his mother was a domestic worker, his father was a barber, a janitor and a chauffeur.
8:48 p.m. Gingrich gets a lot of applause for this line: “American people create jobs, not the government.”
8:46 p.m. Now Paul is piling on. As a Texas taxpayer, he says he's not impressed with Perry's record. "Our taxes have doubled," he says. "Our debt has gone up nearly triple."
8:45 p.m. Romney acknowledges that Texas has done well, but tells the audience he can do better: “If you think the country needs a turnaround, that’s what I do,” he says.
8:42 p.m. Romney repeats a couple of lines he used in the debate last week, ticking off the "advantages" Perry had as governor of a state with no income tax, a Republican legislature and lots of oil. He's also reviving his line about the country having a "smartphone" economy while Obama's plan is like fruitlessly feeding coins into a payphone-- "It's not connected, Mr. President!" Romney says.
8:41 p.m. Cain says the economy is on “life support,” and has the first reference for his 9-9-9 plan. He says people tell him, ‘You don’t know how Washington works.’ “Yes I do,” he says. “It doesn’t.”
8:40 p.m. Bachmann calls herself a “leading voice in the wilderness” this summer demanding that the debt ceiling not be raised. “You’ve got to draw a line in the sand somewhere and say: no more out of control spending,” Bachmann says. She calls for repealing Dodd-Frank and Obamacare again, to big applause.
8:38 p.m. Perry says first round of stimulus created zero jobs. “This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women, or for that matter Wall Street.” He says that freeing up small businessmen and women will make the economy take off like a “rocket ship” so they will risk their capital. On the issue of tax cuts v. spending cuts – Perry says people are tired of spending money on programs they don’t want. A big applause line.
8:36 p.m. A viewer from Virginia asks about the candidate’s plans for the economy. Huntsman leads off by talking about the pain Americans are feeling, and then says his plan is patterned after what he did as governor: reform the tax code (Wall Street Journal endorsement shout out), regulatory reform (“we cannot go forward with Obamacare...we cannot go forward with Dodd-Frank”), and weaning the country from its “heroin-like” addiction to foreign oil.
8:33 p.m. Ron Paul got big applause for saying we should save money by getting out of overseas wars and even bigger applause for calling for the elimination of the departments of Education and Energy.
8:30 p.m. Perry says that Texas gained control of healthcare spending just by targeting fraud and abuse, and consolidating agencies. Romney responds by saying “the key to balancing the budget isn’t just cutting the waste.” He endorses cutting spending, capping spending and passing a balanced budget amendment as a first step, and growing the economy as a second step to reigning in the national debt.
8:27 p.m. It looks like the Perry rapid response team is up and running faster than they were during the last debate. His team sends out an email, “Setting the Record Straight on Social Security,” comparing the statements of “candidate Romney” and “citizen Romney.” (Hint: they’re contradictory) Romney meanwhile, took nanoseconds to spring the trap he baited with his question about whether Perry wanted to "retreat" from his Social Security position. "Rick's Retreat on Social Security," reads the headline on his campaign's first missive.
8:26 p.m. Gingrich gets one of the biggest ovations of the night when he cracks that he isn't concerned about Perry and Romney scaring people about Social Security because Obama scares people every day. He’s been eager since the last debate to get the candidates to stop focusing on attacking each other and instead attack Obama.He also says it’s “Washington mythology” that a huge portion of the federal government goes to entitlement spending and defense. He says the big problem is waste.
8:24 p.m. Santorum tries to cast himself as the original truth-teller on Social Security back from the days when he was in the Senate in the 1990s. “You guys want someone with courage? I’ve got a track record of courage,” he says. Tonight, he’s playing up his electability, interestingly – he keeps coming back to being a conservative in a blue state.
8:23 p.m. Gingrich wants personal retirement accounts that people control. “Why shouldn’t have the right to choose? Cain and Paul also want personal accounts.
8:23 p.m. Huntsman promotes Paul Ryan's budget as a solution to the Social Security problem.
8:22 p.m. Former rock bander Jon Huntsman just drops a Kurt Cobain reference that appears to have gone over the heads of the audience.
8:21 p.m. Once again, Cain calls Chile a model for Social Security (and Galveston, Texas). He offers his own plan, including allowing young people to opt out.
8:19 p.m. Barely 20 minutes in and things are already getting very heated between Perry and Romney. They just had a several minute back-and-forth about what each other has said in the past. "The real question is does Gov. Perry continue to believe that Social Security is not constitutional?" asks Romney. Perry assures current recipients and boomers that it's a "slam dunk" the program will be there for them and he accuses Romney of trying to "scare" seniors.
8:16 p.m. Mitt Romney takes on Perry head-on: he quotes from Perry's book, Fed Up! and demands to know if Perry still believes that Social Security is unconstitutional and should be ended as a federal program. Or, he wonders, would the Texas governor care to "retreat?" Perry responds by insisting he wants a legitimate conversation, and that Perry is just trying to scare to scare people.
8:15 p.m. You can tell Rick Perry is in Florida, a state with a large senior population. He says that "slam dunk" the money will be there for near retirees. But he does not back down from his position of calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," but points out he is not the first person to say it -- just the most courageous.
8:13 p.m. Bachmann starts answering the first question, which is, unsurprisingly, about Social Security. She says we have to keep the promise of funds to current retirees but says we need reform. And she says President Obama "stole" money from Medicare to pay for his health care law.
8:10 p.m. Huntsman gets the first opening remarks -- pledges leadership. Cain boasts his "non-politician" status. Bachmann talks about being the author of bills to repeal the Dodd-Frank and Affordable Care Act laws. Romney goes straight to the economy, and mentions private sector experience. Perry goes for a frequent line promising to make Washington inconsequential in our lives. Paul goes for obeying the Constitution. Gingrich wants to work with us to change Washington "against the forces of reaction and special interest." Santorum - purple tie! - talks about having gotten elected in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.
8:09 p.m.. Anchor Wolf Blitzer promises to give each candidate fair time, a response to the criticism at last week's NBC/Politico debate in Simi Valley, Calif., that Romney and Perry got too much time.
8:07 p.m. Who's mouthing along? Romney -- check. Santorum -- check.
8:06 p.m. The debate starts off like a baseball game: with the singing of the national anthem, not common at debates.
8:05 p.m. As the candidates take the stage, red is the color of the night. Perhaps what Michele Bachmann doesn't get in speaking time she'll get from the cameras: she is sporting a red jacket in a sea of black suits. The men are almost universally sporting red ties and black suits.