The debate, the second on foreign policy in the last 10 days, featured sharp exchanges on a broad range of issues, including anti-terrorism laws, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Republicans ganged up on Pakistan and questioned whether the United States could trust it. Texas Governor Rick Perry called Pakistan unworthy of U.S. aid because it had not done enough to help fight al Qaeda.
“To write a check to countries that are clearly not representing American interests is nonsensical,” said Perry, who has faded in polls after recent debate stumbles but had a stronger performance on Tuesday.
There were several sharp exchanges between second-tier candidates. Bachmann called Perry “highly naive” for suggesting that the United States cut off all aid to Pakistan until its leaders demonstrated “that they have America’s best interests in mind.”
The Minnesota congresswoman, pointing to the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, acknowledged that Pakistan’s leaders “certainly aren’t looking out for the best interests of the United States. I wouldn’t expect them to.” But she added that a U.S. presence in Pakistan was needed to protect American interests.
On Iran’s nuclear program, Romney said he would favor “crippling sanctions,” but added, “I know it’s going to make gasoline more expensive” in the U.S.
Gingrich said he would bomb Iran “as a last recourse” to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon and to overthrow the current regime. He also indicated that he would be willing to send U.S. troops into battle alongside Israeli forces in a conventional attack as an alternative to an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran.
In a discussion of ways to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Perry and Gingrich backed sanctions on the Iranian central bank. Gingrich called it “a good idea.”
“I think replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon,” Gingrich said of Iran.
Most of the others agreed, but Jon Huntsman Jr., the former U.S. envoy to China, said sanctions on Iran wouldn’t work because China and Russia wouldn’t go along. He also joined businessman Herman Cain and Romney in refusing to endorse Perry’s recent suggestion of a U.S.-enforced “no-fly” zone over Syria.
Newt Gingrich took a stance on immigration unpopular with many in the Republican party in a primary debate Tuesday night, and will now have to wait to see if he is punished for it by conservatives.
Gingrich refused to play along with the idea — expressed implicitly by some other candidates — that the only solution to the problem of undocumented immigration is to deport the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.
“I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century,” Gingrich said. “And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”
Gingrich said he did not want the Republican Party, which says it puts a premium on “family values,” to promote immigration policies that would break up families that have been in this country for many years by expelling those who are here illegally.
“If you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home period,” Gingrich said. “If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids, two grandkids, paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church — I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party firebrand whose candidacy has faded and needs a spark, pressed Gingrich by saying that he favored “amnesty.”
“I don’t agree that you would make 11 million workers legal because that in effect is amnesty. And I also don’t agree that you would give the Dream Act on a federal level. And those are two things that I believe that the speaker had been for, and he can speak for himself,” Bachmann said.
Romney, whose status as the Republican front-runner is threatened by Gingrich’s rise, said that any form of amnesty — such as providing a path to permanent legal residence, as the former House speaker advocated — would become “a magnet” for others to enter the country illegally.
“That will only encourage more people to do the same thing. People respond to incentives,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “If you could become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so.”
Perry was more open to providing some sort of path to citizenship or residency for some undocumented immigrants, although he said it couldn’t be done until the border with Mexico is secured.
“I do think that there is a way that after we secure that border, that you can have a process in place for individuals who are law-abiding citizens, who have done only one thing – as Newt says, 25 years ago or whatever that period of time was – that you can put something in place that basically continues to keep those families together,” Perry said.
“But the idea that we’re having this long and lengthy conversation here, until we have a secure border, is just an intellectual exercise,” Perry added.
The debate was the 11th in a series of televised forums that has strongly influenced voter perceptions of the GOP contenders and altered the candidates’ standing in the polls. It was the first presidential debate in Washington since a 1960 face-off between Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon that helped launch Kennedy’s run to the White House.
A series of recent polls gave Gingrich an edge over Romney, who has hovered near the top of polls all year but failed to win over many conservatives. Gingrich’s campaign has soared as rivals like businessman Herman Cain and Perry faltered in the spotlight. [via Huff Post, Reuters and Los Angeles Times]