SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – In the fourth Republican presidential primary debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry came out swinging in his first appearance, taking on everyone from his rivals to Karl Rove and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, refrained from attacking other Republican candidates, instead choosing to go after Obama.
The Perry campaign declared victory after the debate, contending that the debate was “Perry against the world.”
“I think he took barbs from both the moderators and the other candidates,” said Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, a surrogate for the Perry campaign. “I think he came out of the debate stronger than he went into it, and I think it’s a huge win for him.”
The debate began with a square-off between the governor of Texas and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on their records of job creation. Romney made an oblique reference to Perry being a career politician, adding that it was a “fine profession,” but one that he didn’t feel it qualified someone to run for president.
Romney then took a swipe at Perry for not acknowledging the fundamental differences between Massachusetts and Texas as states. Texas, he said, had a better climate for job creation –– a Republican legislature and a right to work policy, among other things. (RELATED: Gingrich: I’d fire Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman tomorrow)
“Those are wonderful things,” Romney said, “but Gov. Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”
“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Perry shot back.
“Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor,” responded Romney.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman later jumped in, taking a swipe at Perry and noting, “I hate to rain on the parade of the Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator in this country during my years of service. That was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul also went after his home state governor for his 1993 letter to Hillary Clinton commending her for her attempts to reform health care. At the time, Perry was the state’s agricultural commissioner, and he has defended the letter saying that nobody at the time knew what a “monstrosity” would emerge from the process.
“Speaking of letters,” Perry shot back, “I was more interested in the one that you wrote to Ronald Reagan back and said I’m going to quit the party because of the things you believe in.” (RELATED: Perry says Karl Rove has been ‘over the top for a long time’)
Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum both went after Perry on the issue of an executive order requiring girls to get vaccinated against HPV. Romney, on the other hand, gave Perry a “mulligan” on the issue.
Perry played up the sense that he was being attacked from all sides.
“I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party,” said Perry when he was given a chance to respond to the criticisms of the HPV vaccine mandate.
After the debate, the Romney campaign slammed Perry for standing by his earlier statement that social security is a Ponzi scheme.
“It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there,” said Perry at the debate. “Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.”
The Romney campaign seized on the remarks, saying that someone who believed that could not win the Republican primary, much less a general election.
“I think people have to think very carefully about nominating a candidate who believes at the very core of his being that we ought to abolish social security as a federal entitlement,” said Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom.
But Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, speaking as a surrogate for Perry, said that he told the truth about social security, and that that did not disqualify him, even in a state which such a large population of senior citizens as Florida.
“He told the truth. People are looking for a leader who will speak the truth,” Cannon said. “Right now it’s unsustainable in its current form. He was also very clear that he believes that if you are at or even near retirement those benefits are sacrosanct. If we don’t have an honest conversation — and I think everybody up there said this — we’ve got to admit the current system is not sustainable over the long term. We do need to defend and he has been resolute on this and he will protect all of the benefits for anyone receiving social security now, at or near retirement, but we’ve got to have an honest conversation.”
Perry also threw punches at political strategist Karl Rove as well as at former Vice President Dick Cheney on this subject, saying that even if Cheney was the one saying that social security was not a Ponzi scheme, it was still “just a lie.”
While Perry went after everyone, Bachmann declined to go after her fellow Republicans, instead turning the attacks to Obama.
Asked about which federal regulations were hurting businesses following the first heated exchange on the various candidates’ records of job creation, Bachmann stayed out of the pile on and instead went after ObamaCare.
“ObamaCare is clearly leading to job-killing regulations, not job-creating regulations,” she said.
Later, as Paul and Santorum went after Perry for the HPV vaccine, Bachmann chimed in on the subject of parental rights — attacking the policy, but never directing her barbs at Perry.
It was a very different tact from the one she took in the last debate in Iowa, when she clashed head on with fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty.
Perry’s performance left some observers cold.
“Perry seems thin-skinned to me and often defensive,” said veteran GOP consultant Mike Murphy.
Rick Grenell, a UN Veteran and John Bolton insider, said that Perry’s foreign policy knowledge needed some work.
“Gov. Perry is very good on domestic issues … What was also clear to me is that he’s not comfortable with national security and foreign policy issues yet. He’s going to need to study these issues so he can show that there is not a huge difference between his domestic policies and his foreign policy positions … He’s going have to brush up and learn quickly,” Grenell said.
“Rick Perry didn’t step up, he showed he doesn’t have any plans for this country,” said a member of an opposing campaign.