GOP debate recap: Did Gingrich enrage anti-immigration voters?
A foreign policy debate among presidential candidates is designed to show which of the would-be presidents is ready to be commander in chief and -- perhaps more important -- who isn't. By that measure, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich led the pack on Tuesday night, along with Jon Huntsman, who offered his dissenting view in favor of a faster U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum were close behind; Herman Cain and Rick Perry both struggled on unfamiliar ground; and Ron Paul, as usual, held down a libertarian corner all his own.
But Tuesday's debate had another dimension: This was the first debate since Gingrich's surge to the top of the polls. Gingrich and Romney didn't differ on major points of foreign policy substance, but they did differ -- big time -- on style. Romney stuck cautiously to tried-and-true talking points and seized every opportunity to reel off well-practiced attack lines against President Obama.
Gingrich, by contrast, took risks -- by saying some interesting things. He asserted that the way to bring down Iran's regime is to drill so much oil that the United States can replace Iran as a supplier on the world market (an idea whose practicality has yet to be shown). He proposed privatizing Social Security as has been done by Chile. And he suggested issuing illegal immigrants "red cards" to allow them to work legally in the United States, without giving them permanent residence or a path to citizenship -- an idea that enrages many anti-immigration voters in the GOP.
That last answer, on immigration, may turn into a running debate in the weeks to come. But the debate made at least one thing clear: If there was any fear that Newt Gingrich would turn into a cautious, boring "New Newt" now that he's on top of the polls, it was misplaced. The Old Newt is alive and well -- and very much in the race.
-- Doyle McManus
Photo: Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, left, and Newt Gingrich listen to Herman Cain during the GOP presidential debate on national security in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters