In foreign policy debate, Gingrich shines; others surprise

The Takeaway

The Republicans had their 11th debate last night and Newt Gingrich, the newly minted conservative challenger to Mitt Romney, was front and center.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the house, surprised many by staking out a comparatively moderate position on immigration, implying he wouldn’t endorse wholesale deportations of those who came to the United States illegally.

“I don’t see how the party that says its the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy that destroys families that have been here a quarter century,” he said. “I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane about enforcing the law, without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so they are not separated from their families.”

He wasn’t all moderate, however. He staked out hawkish policies and domestic drilling for oil and on Iran, saying he would move quickly to cut off gasoline imports to the country and then sabotage — presumably bomb — that nation’s only domestic refinery.

Throughout the debate, he was trying to strike a note of seriousness, and suggesting that America was not a serious nation under President Barack Obama.

Of course, Gingrich wasn’t debating Obama and wasn’t the only person on stage.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and longtime GOP front-runner, said his first overseas trip would be to Israel to signal America’s support for Israel and the region.

“The right course for Israel is to show we care about Israel,” he said.

And while Herman Cain seemed to say he would support an Israeli military strike on Iran, he wasn’t a major participant in the debate.

“I was shocked at the near non-presence of Herman Cain, who at one point went close to 20 or 25 minutes without saying a word,” said Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich. “For someone at the top of the polls, that was astounding.”

Ron Christie, a Republican political strategist, said he was surprised with how completely the other candidates and the moderator ignored Cain. But it presented an opportunity for Gingrich to really show off in a debate mostly devoid of the “Oh wow” moments of previous debates.

“Newt Gingrich, the person who has emerged on the scene as the new kid on the block handled himself surprisingly well,” Christie said. “What surprised me was the strength of Gingrich and Bachmann and the weakness of Huntsman and some of the lesser candidates like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.”

If the lack of presence for Cain was surprising to Christie and Zwillich, they were equally surprised by the lack of discussion of China and North Korea in the debate.

“If we’re talking about foreign policy and the challenges that face us…I thought the omission (of China) by the moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN, was glaring,” Christie said. “These are the issues Americans need to hear as they choose their next Republican presidential nominee.”

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