The five remaining Republican presidential candidates took the debate stage in South Carolina for yet another wild round in the GOP’s Survivor 2012 race.
With less than a week to go before the Palmetto State’s primary, Monday night’s matchup was widely seen as the last opportunity for the not-Mitt Romney candidates to get in their licks before the next round of eliminations. Increasingly desperate to derail the frontrunner, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry brought their best game to the podium, barraging Romney with the most sustained attacks he has experienced so far this election season.
Overall, the debate was a pretty raucous throwdown — a welcome improvement after last weekend’s lackluster New Hampshire double-header. The Fox News audience was lively and moderators were not afraid to throw some elbows to get the candidates riled up.
In case you missed the fireworks, we’ve put together some of the highights.
The usually unflappable Mitt Romney got decidedly flapped last night as his lagging opponents seized on what could be one of their last opportunities to take on the Republican frontrunner.
Romney seemed pretty calm and collected as the debate began, clearly prepared to deflect attacks against his record at Bain Capital. But the former Massachusetts Governor was quickly knocked off his post by a curveball from Rick Santorum, who demanded Romney explain his SuperPAC's attack that Santorum is soft on crime.
Trapped, Romney tried to dodge the question before finally stating he doesn't believe 'people who committ violent crimes should be allowed to vote.' Santorum gleefully pounced on the apparent flip-flop, asking Romney to then explain why, as governor of Massachusetts, he didn't try to change the state's lenient felony voter laws.
The attack set the tone for the night, and Romney never fully recovered.
Gingrich was back in a big way last night, delivering a crowd-razing performance that included an impassioned defence of his proposal to put poor school children to work as janitors.
Gingrich's proud moment came when Fox News moderator Juan Williams asked the former House Speaker to concede that some of his statements about welfare and inner-city children -- including the kid janitors idea -- might be insulting to black Americans.
But Newt refused to back down, and basically tore Williams to shreds: 'No, I don't see that....Only the elites despise earning money.'
His response brought the house to its feet and Williams nearly got booed off the stage.
Watch the whole rumble below.
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Rick Perry managed to salvage some of his dignity last night with a strong debate performance that was laced with some serious 10th Amendment cheerleading.
This states' rights message (and its secessionist undertones) played very well with the Palmetto State debate audience -- Perry basically brought the house down when he stated, unequivocally, that 'South Carolina is at war with the federal government.'
Overall, the Texas Governor proved he has come a long way since his 'Oops' meltdown -- he delivered surprisingly well-prepped responses on the economy and the military, and even demanded that Romney release his tax records. It's probably too late to matter much, but at least he managed to save some face.
Until he suggested Turkey is governed by Islamic terrorists and nearly caused an international incident
In the end, Rick Perry's generally solid debate performance was overshadowed by his assertion that Turkey -- a U.S. & NATO ally -- is under the control of Islamic terrorists.
To be fair, Perry was partly led into the question by moderator Bret Baier, who asked the Texas Governor if he believed Turkey still belongs in NATO, in light of the ruling 'Islamist' party's crackdowns on press freedom, its acceptance of Hamas, and its relationship with Israel.
'Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes,' Perry responded. 'Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.'
The Turkish Foreign Ministry blew a gasket, issuing a statement calling Perry's comments 'baseless and inapproporiate' and chastizing the U.S. for wasting time with presidential candidates 'who do not even know their allies.'
Watch the video below.
After two surprisingly aggressive debate performances in New Hampshire last week, Ron Paul was back to his old, curmudgeonly self last night.
Despite his strong third and second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the moderators largely ignored Paul during the early part of the debate. But when the questions turned to foreign policy, Paul got a serious drubbing -- particularly after his response on whether the U.S. had the authority to kill Osama bin Laden:
'If somebody in this country, say a Chinese dissident comes over here, we wouldn't endorse the idea, well, they can come over here and bomb us and do whatever,' Paul said. 'I'm just trying to suggest that respect for other nation's sovereignty -- and look at the chaos in Pakistan now. I'm just suggesting that there are processes that if you could follow and that you should do it. There is proper procedures rather than digging bigger holes for ourselves.'
Paul's response went on, but no one could hear anything else over the booing crowd.
To top off his relatively bad night, Mitt Romney had his most painfully awkward debate moment when he tried to answer a question about hunting.
Responding to a question about gun rights and hunting, Romney first confused moose and elk, and then was forced to admit 'I'm not the great hunter.' To be fair, he was probably flustered by Juan Williams bringing up that embarassing 2007 'hunting varmint' comment again.
Here's the whole, cringe-inducing exchange:
WILLIAMS: By the way, governor, I remember that you were teased mightily a few years ago to say you hunted varmints. I'm just wondering if you have gone hunting since '07.
ROMNEY: I'm not going to describe all of my great exploits. But I went moose hunting actually -- not moose hunting, I'm sorry, elk hunting with friends in Montana. I've been pheasant hunting. I'm not the great hunter that some on this stage, probably Rick Perry, my guess is you are a serious hunter. I'm not a serious hunter, but I must admit -- I guess I enjoy the sport and when I get invited I'm delighted to be able to go hunting.
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