Tonight's tea-party-themed debate in Tampa, Florida, was billed by many people (cough) as a Rick Perry piñata-fest in the making. And that's pretty much how it went. But it wasn't the stick of Social Security that busted Perry open, spilling candy on the jubilant children below. Romney did very aggressively go after Perry on Social Security, but the rowdy and uninhibited audience was clearly on Perry's side, and the assault failed.
Two other issues inflicted much more damage to Perry. In the second half of the debate, he was slammed by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum on the executive order he signed mandating cervical-cancer vaccines for 12-year-old girls, and criticized by Bachmann, Santorum, and Romney for his opposition to a border fence and his support for letting young illegal immigrants pay the in-state tuition rate for state universities. Perry, so confident earlier, wasn't as cool under pressure when the audience turned against him. Whether those non-economic issues will actually harm his reputation as a rock-solid conservative, and his standing in the polls, remains to be seen. For more of the debate's best, worst, most confusing, and most awkward moments, check out our summary below.
Number of Candidates Who Silently Mouthed the National Anthem: Two (Santorum and Romney)
Most Intense National Anthem Performance: This lady.
Person the Audience Clearly Disliked the Most: Mitt Romney
Most Poorly Chosen Reference: Jon Huntsman, after mentioning Mitt Romney's book, No Apology, quipped, "I don't know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not" a reference to the Nirvana song "All Apologies."
Funniest Line: Jon Huntsman, referring to Perry’s notorious Ben Bernanke remark, deadpanning, "Let me say, for Rick to say that you can't secure the border, I think is pretty much a treasonous comment." It got zero laughs save for Rick Perry, who seemed to find it hilarious and some boos.
Person the Audience Was Simply Baffled By the Most: Jon Huntsman
Most Robot-like Wolf Blitzer Moment: When he introduced a voter by demanding, “Please identify yourself.”
Number of Times the Word "Ponzi" Was Uttered: 7
Best Facial Expression: Newt Gingrich getting cut off by Wolf Blitzer.
Most Over-the-Top Obama Criticism: Michele Bachmann claiming, "We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obama care." The health-care law didn't take money "out of" Medicare, it curtailed the growth of future spending on Medicare. And it wasn't stolen. The Affordable Care Act was passed by a majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate.
Most Blatantly Inaccurate Statement: Rick Perry claiming that the stimulus created zero jobs. The non-partisan CBO says the stimulus was responsible for 1.3 million to 3.5 million jobs. Not as much as everyone would have liked, but a lot more than zero.
Policy Plan That Was Most Obviously First Conceived as a Pizza Deal: Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax reform proposal.
Least Controversial Suggestion: “We need more workers.” - Jon Huntsman
Top Two Toughest Questions from the Audience:
1. "Every dollar that I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?"
Worst Analogy: "The world has changed. What's happened over the last 20, 30 years is we've gone from a pay phone world to a smartphone world and President Obama keeps jamming quarters into the pay phone thinking things are going to get better. It's not connected, Mr. President!" Mitt Romney
Most Senile Line: "When we wake up in the morning we expect 60 minutes to be in an hour. Now when we wake up because of some of the actions of the current Fed, we don't know what the value of the dollar is going to be." Herman Cain
The Number of Times Rick Perry Said “At the End of the Day” In Two Consecutive Sentences: 3 "At the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that. And at the end of the day, you may criticize me about the way that I went about it, but at the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life."
Fanciest Word: "Patina." Mitt Romney
Most Unintentionally Hilarious Moment for the Governor Who Has Overseen More Executions Than Any Governor in Modern History: Rick Perry defending his decision to sign an executive order mandating cervical cancer vaccines for 12-year-old girls by proclaiming, “Texas is a place that, day in and day out, protects life.”
Most Depressing Audience Moment: When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul whether a person who chooses not to buy health insurance, then needs life-saving medical care, should just be allowed to die. Multiple people shout “Yeah!” as if cheering a WWE body slam.
How Much Rick Perry Implied He Could Be Bribed For: No less than $5,000.
Three Issues That Hurt Rick Perry the Most:
3. Social Security
2. In-state tuition eligibility for illegal immigrants
1. Executive order mandating cervical cancer vaccine
Worst Response Anyone Received: The audience when Ron Paul claimed that the United States is partly responsible for how the terrorists feel about it.
Two Worst Demonstrations of Constitutional Knowledge:
2. Michele Bachmann claiming that a health-insurance mandate at the state level is unconstitutional.
1. Michele Bachmann saying that the only things she'd take with her to the White House are "a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, and that's it." The Bill of Rights is a part of the Constitution.
Best First Half: Rick Perry
Best Second Half: Michele Bachmann