Republican Debate Best Moments: Romney Gets Off Easy, Huntsman Talks Mandarin, Paul Provokes
MANCHESTER, N.H. - Nothing much changed during the New Hampshire debate Saturday night, especially since former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went completely untouched by his opponents. But there were a few noteworthy moments in the 14th debate of the Republican presidential primary. Here they are in the order they happened.
1. The One Attack On Romney Of The Night
Everyone -- even the Romney campaign -- thought the former Massachusetts governor would be attacked from multiple sides.
"He went into it believing he was going to get beat up on all sides," said Romney adviser Ron Kaufman.
And early on, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich delivered a line that signaled the possibility of a long night for Romney.
"I'm very much for free enterprise," Gingrich said, and then targeted Romney's career at Bain Capital.
"I'm not nearly as enamored of a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers," he said.
Yet that was it. It came in the first few minutes of the debate, and it was the most ferocious broadside leveled at Romney the entire night.
2. Paul And Santorum Trade Barbs As Romney Looks On
Moments later, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were shooting at one another in an extended back and forth, with Romney standing in the middle looking happy as a clam to have the candidates knocking each other.
Paul repeated his attack -- already up in a TV ad -- that Santorum is "one of the top corrupt individuals because he took so much money from the lobbyists."
But as he continued to talk, the microphone emitted some feedback, causing Paul to stop and say, "There it goes again."
Santorum leaned into his mic and wisecracked: "They caught you not telling the truth, Ron."
After Paul finished his takedown of Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator responded: "The group that called me corrupt was a group called CREW. If you haven't been sued by CREW, you're not a conservative. CREW is this left-wing organization that puts out a list every election of the top Republicans who have tough races and calls them all corrupt because they take contributions from PACs."
"It's a ridiculous charge," Santorum told Paul. "And you should know better than to cite George Soros-like organizations to say that they're corrupt. So that's number one."
Romney stood quietly between the two, hands in pockets, a bemused smile on his face.
3. Paul Attacks Gingrich On Deferments
Paul went after Gingrich hard for receiving deferments from military service during the Vietnam War, drawing one of the angriest responses from Gingrich at any debate or moment in the campaign so far.
"People who don't serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments aren't -- they -- they have no right to send our kids off to war," Paul said. "I'm trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up."
"I have a pet peeve that annoys me to a great deal, because when I see these young men coming back, my heart weeps for them," he said.
Gingrich responded: "Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he's referring to."
"I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like as a family to worry about your father getting killed," Gingrich added. "And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with."
But Paul persisted: "I need one quick follow-up. When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids, and I went."
That prompted Gingrich to say, "I wasn't eligible for the draft. I wasn't eligible for the draft."
4. Paul On 'True Racism'
Paul's comments on the U.S. criminal justice system rank as unusual for a Republican debate, and likely turned a few heads among any Democrats who were watching. Here are his comments in full:
And one of my heroes is Martin Luther King because he practiced the libertarian principle of peaceful resistance and peaceful civil disobedience, as did Rosa Parks. But, also, I'm the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws. Look at the percentages. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They're -- they're prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get -- they get the death penalty way disproportionately. How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get, you know, execution? But poor minorities have an injustice. And they have an injustice in war, as well, because minorities suffer more. Even with a draft -- with a draft, they suffered definitely more. And without a draft, they're suffering disproportionately. If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws, which are being so unfairly enforced.
5. Contraception Confusion
"Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?" asked ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
Romney was clearly irritated by the question: "George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception. I can't imagine the circumstances where a state would want to do so."
"The idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no -- no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing, I think," Romney said.
The back and forth went on for several minutes, as Stephanopoulos pressed the question, leading former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu to remark afterward that "the moderators asked the dumbest questions I've ever heard."
"Have you ever heard a dumber question than the contraception question?" Sununu said of George Stephanopoulos' queries. "He should be ashamed of himself."
6. Perry Says He Would Send Troops Back To Iraq
"I would send troops back into Iraq," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. "I think we start talking with the Iraqi individuals there. The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq -- because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal leftist base, and move out those men and women. He could have renegotiated that time frame. I think it is a huge error for us."
Perry added, "We're going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light. They're going to move back in, and all of the work we've done -- every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing. Because we've got a president that does not understand what's going on in that region."
7. Huntsman's Mandarin Gambit Falls Flat
An exchange between Romney and Santorum on China led to one of the most awkward moments of the night: former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaking in Mandarin.
Huntsman, as he has before, hit Romney for saying he will label China a currency manipulator during his first day in office.
"It's not sense to think you can slap a tariff on China the first day that you're in office as Gov. Romney would like to do," said Huntsman, who was the U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 to 2010.
Romney hit back.
"I'm sorry. Governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China. The rest of us on the stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward," Romney said, then launched into why he would want to push back against China if he gets elected president.
Huntsman, somewhat exasperated, shot back: "I think it's important to note, as they say in China, 'ta butai liaojie zhege qingxing.' He doesn't seem to understand the situation."
The audience laughed as Huntsman said his lines in Mandarin. Huntsman has done that before in debates, but never in a way that appeared as if he were trying to flaunt his knowledge of the language. Huntsman has had a tough time going off script or making jokes this entire debate season, usually coming off awkwardly, and this moment seemed to capture that perfectly.