The Republican candidates met in South Carolina Saturday night for yet another presidential debate, this time with a focus on foreign policy and national security issues.
In marked contrast to the past few debates, this weekend’s debate was notably lacking in any major gaffes or fireworks. The debate was actually pretty substantive, with all of the candidates (except Ron Paul) presenting relatively hawkish positions on everything from Iran and Afghanistan to torture and cybersecurity. But in a race where the economy and domestic issues remain the central concern, the candidates’ debate remarks are unlikely to change the state of the Republican race.
Still, the South Carolina debate was not without its entertaining/revealing moments.
After his monumental meltdown during Wednesday night's debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed destined to go down as the worst debater in the history of televised presidential debates.
But to everyone's surprise, Perry pulled himself back up Saturday night and delivered by far the best debate performance of his campaign. Low expectations appeared to set the Texan free -- he answered questions with confidence, and even managed to make to throw in a few self-effacing jokes about Wednesday's 'oops' meltdown.
When CBS moderator Scott Pelley brought up eliminating the Department of Energy, Perry chimed in with a quippy: 'Glad you remembered it.'
'I've had some time to think about it,' Pelley responded.
'Me too,' Perry said, drawing laughter from the crowd and chuckles from South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint.
The juiciest confrontation Saturday night actually took place offstage between U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and CBS News, the host of the debate, after CBS political analyst John Dickerson accidentally copied a Bachmann staffer on an email that said the Congresswoman wouldn't get many questions because she was basically irrelevant.
Somewhat understandably, the Bachmann team lost it. According to CNN, Bachmann's campaign manager, Keith Nahigian stormed through the spin room, calling Dickerson a 'fraud' and a 'piece of sh*t.' The campaign is now using the incident as an opportunity to launch an attack against the 'liberal mainstream media' for 'purposely suppressing the conservative message.'
In fairness to Dickerson, Bachmann has been polling below 5% for some time now. The answers she did give Saturday were mostly inconsistent and confusing -- between her accusation that Obama is letting the ACLU run the CIA and her warning that there is an imminent threat of 'worldwide nuclear war' against Israel, it is easy to see why CBS wanted to limit her airtime.
Cain, a Republican frontrunner, was a little out of his element during Saturday's debate, which forced him to take questions on foreign policy, an area where is inexperienced and gaffe-prone.
Unable to retreat to his signature 9-9-9 talking points, the former pizza titan lacked confidence, giving cautious and often indirect answers. His answer on torture, for example, was fuzzy, at best.
At first, Cain was clear enough: 'I am against torture. Period.'
But then he said he would leave it up to the military to decide what torture actually is. And waterboarding? Definitely not torture.
Still, for a candidate who recently appeared to be unaware that China has nuclear weapons, the debate could have gone a lot worse.
Watch the video below, courtesy of The Daily Beast.
Per usual, Newt Gingrich was the most proficient debater on the stage Saturday -- and he made sure everyone knew it. Apparently emboldened by his recent surge in the polls, the former House Speaker was authoritative and irritatingly professorial, making it quite clear he thought everyone else on stage was ill-informed and superficial.
The bulk of his ire was, predictably, directed at the debate moderators, who have become a favourite Gingrich punching bag during this fall's presidential debates. Saturday's target was CBS News anchor Scott Pelley, who tried to teach Gingrich about the 'rule of law' as it pertains to American terrorists.
Big mistake. Gingrich schooled Pelley and got a huge cheer from the audience.
Here's the video. Listen for Pelley's smug 'no' just before Gingrich lays into him.
The biggest loser of the night was undoubtedly the debate host CBS, which botched the event from beginning to end.
The debate was this year's first broadcast-network matchup, but only part of it was actually televised. The network ended its national telecast after one hour and switched to a choppy livestream, which promptly crashed and basically ensured that anyone watching the debate found something else to do with their Saturday night. On top of that, Scott Pelley, the moderator, mistakenly told South Carolina viewers that they could keep watching the debate on TV.
To make matters worse, the Bachmann debacle was basically an open invitation for candidates to attack the debate as biased and divisive.
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