GOP Presidential Candidates Show True Colors in National Security Debate

Debate offers defining campaign moment for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Posted: 11/22/2011 10:59 PM EST

In the 11th presidential debate Tuesday night, the eight Republican presidential candidates weren’t afraid to mince words or point fingers in a tense conversation about national security. The CNN and Heritage Foundation-sponsored debate held in Washington, D.C., produced the some of the boldest commentary from the candidates thus far.

 

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich opened the evening by defending the controversial Patriot Act, one of the nation's principal tools in uncovering terrorist threats, yet has been criticized for its potential to undermine constitutional protections. Gingrich used a chilling example of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to illustrate why "all of us will be in danger" for the rest of our lives without the legislation, and he said he would strengthen it if elected as president.

 

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose views have often appeared to skew left from his conservative peers, interjected that the act was “un-American” and that it sacrifices liberty for security.

 

Paul’s defense retuned when CNN debate moderator Wolf Blitzer asked the panel about the Transportation Security Administration’s much-maligned patdown policies. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and pizza magnate Herman Cain agreed that privatizing the TSA would free up government resources and give the agency leeway to create more effective counterterrorism policies.

 

Perry added a swipe at the Obama administration, calling it an “absolute failure” at collecting terrorism intelligence from around the world. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann called out President Obama for eliminating the CIA’s ability to investigate terrorists, saying that the president has "essentially handed over our investigation of terrorists to the" American Civil Liberties Union, a claim she did not substantiate further with facts.

 

Rick Santorum, whose voice has in the past been drowned out by his opponents, spoke very clearly about his support of profiling in those TSA patdowns. When asked by Blitzer who should be profiled, Santorum answered, “The folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes” — specifically naming radical Muslims and younger males. Santorum appeared to have immediately realized the polarizing effect of his comments, to which Paul immediately attacked.

 

“Be very cautious about protecting the rule of law. It will be a sacrifice you are sorry for,” Paul said.

 

As congressional leaders failed to find a way to cut $1.5 trillion in government spending, Texas Gov. Rick Perry slammed Obama for his “reprehensible” decision to entrust the task with a committee and not do it himself. Perry said that even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opposes potential cuts to the defense budget, and that Panetta should resign from his post in protest.

 

Gingrich may have been one of the frontrunners coming into the debate, but he drew criticism for his statement that he would not “expel” family members who came to the U.S. illegally years ago but have over the years become rooted in their communities and have a stake in the country. Bachmann said that allowing illegal immigrants to stay is a form of amnesty. Bachmann and Mitt Romney both agreed that offering benefits for illegal immigrants attracts more to cross U.S. borders.

 

 

Who do you think won the debate?

(Photo: Mark Wilson/GettyImages)

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