Texas governor Rick Perry engaged in persuasive dispute with his rivals at Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate in Orlando. Social Security, immigration, border security and Perry’s 2007 executive order mandating that middle-school girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer were the main topics. Texas governor Rick Perry struggled to reply to his critics in the latest debate between Republican contenders.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Perry supported the vaccine as a political favor to a pharmaceutical company, Merck, which donated to his campaigns.
For Rick Perry, the uninspired performance raises fears among Republicans that he would fail to dent Barack Obama in the high-profile presidential debates during the 2012 general election.
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and Rick Perry’s main rival, was polite and more fluent, especially as the debate wore on, although he avoided making detailed responses.
The Texas governor also saw his once immaculate conservative credentials come under fire when Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum pointed out a 2001 law signed by Perry that gave higher education tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants.
Perry hit back hard and questioned whether Santorum had even been to the border before. He hotly defended the policy, accusing critics of seeking to punish children for the sins of their parents.
“If you say that we should not educate children that have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart”
During the GOP presidential debate, he specifically mentioned his support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law:
“The fact of the matter is this: There is nobody on this stage who has spent more time working on border security than I have. For a decade, I’ve been the governor of a state with a 1,200-mile border with Mexico. We put $400 million of our taxpayer money into securing that border. We’ve got our Texas Ranger recon teams there now. I supported Arizona’s immigration law by joining in that lawsuit to defend it.”
Romney questioned Perry’s commitment to protecting Social Security in a state with nearly 4 million citizens who depend on the entitlement program.
Rick Perry rebuffed Romney’s accusation that he wants to eliminate Social Security at the federal level and let the entitlement program be managed by the states.
“It’s not the first time that Mitt has been wrong on some issues so far,” Perry said. “The bottom line is, we never said we would move that back to the states.”
Perry swore a “solemn oath” to protect the program and said states, as a cost-saving measure, should allow Social Security recipients to opt out of the program if they choose.
The GOP presidential debate also revealed an ugly side of the Republican party when a member of the US armed forces appeared on video to tell the candidates that he was gay and that he had been forced to lie about his identity when he was deployed to Iraq in 2010 because he didn’t want to lose his job. Then he asked if the candidates would “do anything to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers” now that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy has been officially repealed.
When the video ended a handful of very loud boos erupted in the debate hall. Otherwise there was silence – not one cheer for an active duty soldier asking the candidates if they’d let him continue serving his country without lying. No other voter-submitted question all night elicited such a harsh response.
The question was addressed to Rick Santorum, who made things worse by not offering any words of appreciation for Hill’s service. Instead, he declared that “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military,” that gays and lesbians have been given “a special privilege” by the repeal of DADT, and that the basic function of the military has been undermined because of it. This response produced loud applause and cheers.