Perry stumbles, audience surly in third GOP debate

The Takeaway

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The third Republican debate in as many weeks on Thursday night once again centered around former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry sparring with each other. Perry and Romney challenged each other over their conservative purity on issues such as immigration, health care, and entitlements.

“There’s a Rick Perry out there that’s saying … the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that’s it’s unconstitutional and should be returned to the states,” Romney said. “So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.”

Perry started out strong, but stumbled through the second half of the debate. “His last hour is one I’m sure he’d rather forget,” said Ron Christie, Republican political strategist, CEO of Christie Strategies, and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

“His second hour he looks distracted, he didn’t look very strong, didn’t look presidential,” Christie said. “And on the substance: his answers on foreign policy, looking at the Middle East, he just did not look very good at all.”

There was an additional candidate on stage last night in Florida. His name is Gary Johnson, and he’s the former governor of New Mexico. Many people hadn’t heard of Johnson before last night, but he’s already presenting himself as a fiscally conservative libertarian with a proven track record of economic successes.

The Fox News and Google-sponsored debate featured a question regarding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell from a gay soldier, who was loudly booed by the audience.

Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich says last night’s booing, along with the cheering at a previous debate over Perry’s execution record in Texas, isn’t helping with the Republican brand.

“I think the Republican audiences at these debates aren’t doing their brand any favor, because what happens when these spontaneous approvals or disapprovals occur, is that journalists — such as myself — get sidetracked from the candidates on the stage.”

“It’s painting a picture of the Republic base that I’m sure lots of Republican operatives would rather not have portrayed,” Zwillich added.

View YouTube video of soldier’s question and Rick Santorum’s answer:

Watch full length video of debate on the Fox News channel on YouTube.


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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