The GOP presidential debate from Las Vegas Tuesday night was, at times, intensely contentious and deeply personal. For sure, there were no winners from all of the sparring. In fact, the debate may have been damaging to the entire Republican field.
The Obama campaign must have been cheering during the debate, which aired on CNN. After all, they are trying to convince voters that President Barack Obama is the reasonable adult in Washington who is willing to cooperate and compromise. They blame Republicans for all the partisan acrimony that has paralyzed Washington since the president's election. Tuesday's debate only strengthend their case.
Businessman Herman Cain, who has enjoyed a surge to the top of recent polls, came under fire from all sides for his "9-9-9" economic recovery proposal. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said, "I love his boldness and it’s great. But...84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under his plan." Cain responded, "That simply is not true. I invite people to look at our analysis which we make available."
At one point Cain tried to deflect charges that his proposed nine percent income tax would be added to a state's income tax. "Whether you throw out the existing code and you put in our plan, you’re still going to pay that. That’s apples and oranges," said Cain. Former Governor Mitt Romney pounced, "And I am going to be getting a bushel basket that has apples and oranges in it, because I’m going to pay both taxes."
But former Governor Romney himself took heavy incoming from all sides. The initial criticism centered on his Massachusetts health care reform plan known as "Romneycare". Former Senator Santorum charged, "You just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing “Obamacare...your plan was the basis for Obamacare.” For several minutes the former governor and senator testily went back and forth, then Governor Romney affirmed, "What Obama has done has imposed on the nation a plan that will not work, that must be repealed."
But the real fireworks came on the subject of immigration. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has done poorly so far in the debates and has cratered in the polls, pointedly attacked former Governor Romney. "Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective because you hired illegals in your home, and you knew for — about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy."
Former Governor Romney, who has been a cool operator in previous debates, quickly answered, "Rick, I don’t think that I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life." But then he host his composure when he was interrupted by the Texas Governor, even placing his hand on the governor's shoulder. The Governor Romney said, "This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that...you’re going to get testy. But let’s let — I’ll tell you what: Let me take my time, and then you can take your time."
Governor Romney answered by saying a contractor he had used to cut his lawns hired an illegal, and when he found out he fired them. The incident was first reported years ago by a Boston newspaper but it shows that Governor Perry came prepared to take on the front-runner.
Since President Obama was elected to office the two political parties have become more polarized and more deeply divided. Americans from all walks of life have regularly expressed their great frustration with the constant partisan bickering in Washington because it has impeded progress on the economy. The Republican debate in Las Vegas was just more of the same.
Former House Speaker and candidate Newt Gingrich offered his fellow debaters some advice, "Let me just point out a second that maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House.