From left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and businessman Herman Cain. (Photo: AP Photo/Jim Cole)
The pundits got it wrong. In the hours leading up to the Republican debate that took place Monday night in New Hampshire, political observers gleefully predicted that that six of the seven contenders on stage would lash into the presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney on flip-flops and health care. Instead, they all turned their attacks on President Obama on the economy, the budget deficit and health care.
Romney, who lost his first bid for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2008, seemed the most presidential of the group, and handily defended the health care plan he enacted as governor of Massachusetts. He said that if elected he would repeal “Obamacare” and pointed out the differences between the two plans, particularly as costs. He also said that states should be allowed to find their own solutions.
“And if people don't like it in our state, they can change it. That's the nature of why states are the right place for this type of responsibility. And that's why I introduced a plan to repeal ‘Obamacare’ and replace it with a state-centric program,” he said.
Speaking on a talk show program only the day before, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty coined the phrase “Obamneycare” in an attempt to criticize and link Romney and the president on the issue. But when asked repeatedly about the characterization during the debate, Pawlenty demurred.
“If it was ‘Obamneycare’ on Fox News Sunday, why is it not ‘Obamneycare’ standing here with the governor right there?” CNN moderator John King asked.
Pawlenty responded that the term actually reflects Obama’s admission that he’d used the Massachusetts plan as a blueprint, which only served to make him look weak and unwilling to confront a rival.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, who used the debate to announce that she would soon become an official contender in the race, also performed well. She added a sparkle that the other candidates lack and didn’t make any serious gaffes. If Sarah Palin does decide to enter the race, she should take a page out of Bachman’s playbook: get good advice and follow it.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has received a lot of unflattering attention lately after his campaign imploded last week while he was cruising the Greek Isles. He at times seemed defensive and professorial, and maintained at least part of his critique of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to provide seniors with Medicare vouchers.
“If you're dealing with something as big as Medicare and you can't have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you're doing is the right thing, you better slow down,” he said.
Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, the GOP’s only African-American candidate, wasn’t the stand out that he was during the May’s debate in South Carolina. He struggled when questioned about previous statements made about Muslims’ commitment to the U.S. and whether he’d appoint a Muslim to his cabinet. Cain said he was uncomfortable “because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so when I said I wouldn't be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one.”
Romney, whose Mormon faith has caused its own share of discomfort among conservative voters, took the opportunity to remind viewers that “people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principal of religious tolerance.”