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Reagan's Spirit Hovers Over Republican Candidate Debate

In the Republican debate, the front runner Rick Perry was under attack. He defended his conservative positions with gusto.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 9/9/2011, 12:22 AM

The fact that the Republican debate last night took place in the Ronald Reagan library in California provided a great deal of symbolism.

The various debaters strove to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan.

Governor Rick Perry reminded Representative  Ron Paul that he had criticized Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan hovered over the debates in another way as well. The two major contenders, Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, essentially reprised the battle for the Republican nomination in 1980.

Rick Perry, as the front-runner, was under attack throughout the debates from both the moderators as well as the rival candidates.

He was assailed for embracing too extreme a conservative position on the issues of Social Security, global warming and capital punishment.

Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman filled the role of George Herbert Walker Bush, Reagan's most serious rival in 1980 and eventual running mate. Bush, in 1980, was making a similar pitch when he claimed that Reagan was unelectable and his fiscal policies were "voodoo economics".

Perry did not give any ground on these questions, even when the moderator repeated criticisms made by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney – two Bush administration Republican stalwarts.

Romney jumped on Perry's book "Fed Up" where Perry questions the social Security System

Romney: The issue in the book "Fed Up," Governor, is you say that by any measure, Social Security is a failure. You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security and those who have lived on it…. Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security.

Perry came right back:

You cannot keep the status quo in place and not call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme. It is. That is what it is. Americans know that, and regardless of what anyone says, oh, it's not -- and that's provocative language -- maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like, let's get America working again and do whatever it takes to make that happen. (APPLAUSE)

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman attacked on the global warming front:

Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I'm saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science. We can't run from mainstream conservative philosophy. We've got to win voters.

Perry responded:

The fact of the matter is, the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we're going to put America's economics in jeopardy.

Additionally he claimed that without embracing the global warming theory, the state of Texas, under his governorship, had effectively combated air pollution.

When questioned by the moderator if he could sleep at night when Texas led the nation in executions, Perry defended capital punishment:

"But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

The Texas governor got applause for the statement from the predominantly Republican audience and this again shows that Rick Perry will have little difficulty with the Republican base.

The issue of job creation dominated the debate to the extent that it tended to crowd out other issues.

In a normal election year, the calls for by John Huntsman and Ron Paul for a withdrawal from Afghanistan would have generated more attention as well as Representative Michele Bachmann's stance that the US had no business intervening in Libya.

In this respect 2012 will resemble 1992 rather than 1980-- the issue will be the economy.