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CNN/Tea Party Debate Post-Game: Winners

Monday night CNN brought us the latest GOP debate live from the set of “American Gladiators.” The story of the night? The field largely ganged up on Gov. Rick Perry and hit him hard on a number of issues, including his executive order that made the HPV vaccination mandatory, Texas’ in-state tuition for illegals, and his Social Security comments. Who came out on top? We turn to our contributors:

Ralph Smith, opinion editor of the Alabama Crimson White

The winner of tonight’s debate was undoubtedly Wolf Blitzer, who overcame his natural lack of charisma to prove that CNN can facilitate a campaign forum without John King’s awkward grunts or irrelevant questions.

Responding to Blitzer were many able candidates who are finally beginning to show the sort of political talent needed to make it in a national election. But the one who did the best was Mitt Romney.

He engaged the issue of health care reform more substantively than he has before, making specific comparisons between his legislation and President Obama’s. The issue of the individual mandate is still a huge hurdle, but Romney finally drew some firm distinctions. His plan, in fairness, didn’t establish IPAB-style panels to ration care or raise taxes, both central elements of Obamacare.

He also managed to move to the right of Rick Perry on another major issue – immigration. He expressed support for a border fence after Perry dismissed the idea, and made a broader case that the Republican Party in general should stand for enforcing the law.

On the other hand, Perry, Romney’s chief rival, set himself back on the Gardasil issue, commenting that he couldn’t be bought for $5,000. What price, exactly, can he be bought for?

The debates until this point have been mostly practice rounds. However, the political calendar is quickly moving into primetime, and Mitt Romney proved tonight that, more than any of his fellow candidates, he is ready for the challenge ahead.

Winner: Romney

Aaron Marcus, columnist Rutgers Daily Targum

I see no clear winner from this debate, but would give the slight edge to Rick Perry. I think he remains the frontrunner in this race and tonight showed crystal clear that the rest of the field does as well. He stood his ground on Social Security, while stating clearly that those who currently or will soon receive Social Security will undoubtedly have their funding. In terms of his stances on immigration and border security, Perry will draw moderates and more importantly the Latino vote to his candidacy. Perry showed he is in favor of both practical border security and immigration reform. This may not bode well in the Republican Primary, but is a huge victory in a field that otherwise looked disconnected from the majority of Americans at times tonight. Perry was clear on his position that America shouldn’t be discriminating against those who want to contribute to the American dream based on heritage and parental history.

Ultimately Perry showed he is gearing up for the general election, and while the other candidates tried to prop themselves up tonight as the “most conservative,” Perry already had his record to do that talk for him. Texas has a strong history of job creation and cutting taxes, it takes up more than 70 percent of America’s border with Mexico and the governor has served three terms as the chief executive of the state, so the people clearly like what he’s doing.

That was clear tonight, and allowed for Perry to ignore petty arguments and push for reforming entitlements, government spending and the size of the federal government. Once again no clear winner, but definitely a small victory for the Perry campaign.

Winner: Perry

Matt Berry, Tulane College Republicans

Perry’s strong performance in the polls has taken the target off of Romney’s back and put it on the Texas Governor’s. The dynamics of the field are such that every candidate feels a need to compete for Perry’s voters. Tonight’s stage featured Romney and Perry, and a bunch of other people tearing Perry down. So long as each of the “others” remains in the race, they will be attacking Perry.

The Gardasil issue probably isn’t going to be a problem for Perry in and of itself. True, it’s the kind of sound bite that might stick in the minds of low-information voters. But I think we saw tonight the route Bachmann, the most relevant of the irrelevants, is planning for this: Perry abandoned his principals to pay back a corporation that supported him. The GOP has a strong argument against President Obama on cronyism. It’s essentially the backbone of the president’s economic policy that government can and should pick winners and losers (compare, say, GE or GM to Boeing). Solyndra and a sky-high unemployment rate are strong evidence that this route doesn’t work. Decrying crony capitalism is a great general election strategy to win independents, and it’s an argument that Rick Perry is incapable of making.  If the other candidates keep hammering Perry on this he might lose the Palinistas to one of the “others,” clearing room for Mitt Romney to secure a plurality.

Winner: Romney

Nico Perrino, columnist Indiana Daily Student

Following a soaring first half performance in which Perry withstood attacks from nearly every other candidate on issues ranging from Social Security to Texas debt, the Texas governor’s wings were finally clipped when it came time to respond to allegations of executive overreach in his handling of Texas’s HPV vaccination.

“To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” said Rep. Michelle Bachmann, “that should never be done.”

It was a critical test for Perry, and his response was the right one: “At the end of the day … I am always going to err on the side of life.” But his answer seemed deflated, and the momentum he built up during his earlier responses was brought to a screeching halt.

Unfortunately for Perry, as the frontrunner he had the most to lose from a poor performance. Were his answers to the HPV questions weak enough and his overall performance poor enough, however, to dislodge him from the 12 percent lead that today’s CNN/ORC International Poll claims he carries over Romney? I don’t know.

If the frontrunner remains the frontrunner following a debate, it is hard to argue that he or she lost.

Luckily for him, though, no other candidate was particularly strong today. Mitt Romney seemed to talk down to the audience and Jon Huntsman struggled to repeat the solid performance he had last week.

Will Perry’s performance result in a drop in the polls? That remains to be seen. If so, it wasn’t any individual who won tonight, but the field as a whole.

Winner: The field 1, Perry 0

Stephanie Wang, editor-in-chief of the Michigan Review

The candidates finally decided that they wouldn’t be able win by only attacking President Obama (except for Newt Gingrich, who doesn’t seem to have caught on).

Romney and Perry were given the most time, but the debate revealed that Perry is the one to beat. He was constantly under attack. First for his position on Social Security, which he has called a Ponzi scheme, then on the Gardasil mandate, and finally on giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who had lived in Texas for at least three years.

Bachmann made the fewest mistakes, but was given too little time to be called the winner. That title goes to Perry, if only because he stood behind unpopular policies — the Gardasil executive order, his comments on Social Security — that are likely to lose votes and admitted mistakes he had made.

I was most impressed by Perry’s defense of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. As a border-state governor, he was most knowledgeable on the subject, and proved it. He said he was proud of the decision which is “working well in Texas.”

Winner: Perry


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