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Last night’s Republican presidential debate was the most substantive and the most confrontational. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was attacked by every one of his competitors, and aggressive attacks on Mitt Romney by Rick Perry and Rick Santorum were not received well by the audience. The polls will probably change significantly in the coming days as a result of the event.
Herman Cain was target number one. Every single person on stage ridiculed his 9-9-9 plan in a pile-on that must take a toll on his poll numbers. He repeatedly told viewers to go to his website and evaluate the math themselves. Rick Santorum claimed that 9-9-9 would raise taxes on 84% of taxpayers and criticized its elimination of tax breaks for families. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney said it would raise taxes, hurt the middle class, and unwisely give the government the power to enforce a national sales tax. Ron Paul called 9-9-9 “dangerous” and “regressive.” Newt Gingrich said it isn’t as simple as portrayed.
Cain had some good moments in defending his plan, such as when he said that Americans currently have to pay five invisible taxes on a loaf of bread, and 9-9-9 would replace it with one visible tax. His comment that it would throw out a “10 million word mess” was well-received, as was his criticism of the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters. He said his critics were confusing apples and oranges, particularly when Romney asked him if it would add a sales tax on top of a state tax. Audience members enjoyed it when Romney said it would therefore force Americans to pay for apples and oranges.
Cain again stumbled on foreign policy. Anderson Cooper mentioned his statement in an interview that he’d potentially support an exchange of Guantanamo Bay prisoners for an American hostage. He says he misspoke. He did not give an answer about the Israeli prisoner exchange with Hamas for Gilad Shalit, opining that we shouldn’t judge it because we are not in the Israeli Prime Minister’s position. Altogether, it was a rough night for Herman Cain and he is likely to lose some of his support to one of the second-tier candidates.
Mitt Romney was the second most-attacked candidate, but performed better than Cain. None of the criticisms were new, and they have already been part of Republican voters’ evaluations for a long time. In fact, the audience reaction to attacks on him seemed to work in his favor. First, Rick Santorum went after him on health care and when Romney tried to answer, he was incessantly interrupted by Santorum, who then said, “your time is up” before Romney even had time to reply.
Second, Rick Perry was booed when he mentioned Romney’s accidental hiring of a lawn service that employed illegal immigrants, saying he was at the “height of hypocrisy.” Romney tried to defend himself but Perry repeatedly jumped in. Romney lost his cool and with a red face, raised his voice and put his hand on Perry’s shoulder. In his reply, he knocked Perry for approving in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and the crowd went wild. The audience reaction showed that Romney won the exchange, aided by sympathy caused by the rudeness towards him.
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