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Arizona Debate Score: The Candidates Were Fine, but CNN is a Joke

Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran denied access to a military base suspected of being used to develop nuclear weapons. Our ally Israel views Iran's potential possesion of a nuclear weapon as an existential threat. Iran's possession of nuclear weapons opens up the possibility of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. But in CNN's Republican debate, nothing was asked or said about Iran until deep into the night, and after a ridiculous question about contraception gained higher priority.

The debate opened as debates usually do, with candidate introductions. During the opening moments, Mitt Romney received the largest applause for his appeal to restore America’s promise, despite going third in the introductions. Then he joked that as George Costanza would say, when they’re applauding, you stop. Overall, Romney was feistier tonight than in debates of the past. Rick Santorum challenged his conservative bona fides, accusing Romney of adopting Occupy Wall Street rhetoric, and Romney shot back that he wants to cut taxes on everyone, including the so-called one percent.

Ron Paul won the first laugh line for answering a John King question, why did you run an ad calling Rick Santorum a fake? “Because he’s a fake!” And Paul assailed Santorum’s record of voting for programs like No Child Left Behind, a vote Santorum admits he now regrets. Paul finished the exchange calling Santorum’s baseline credibility into question, and ripped everyone who has voted for foreign aid. Foreign aid, by the way, is about one percent of the overall federal budget. It should be cut, but eliminating it outright doesn’t solve the nation’s fiscal problems. Santorum’s response to Paul: Citizens Against Government Waste gave him a hero award and found him to be one of the most fiscally conservative senators during his time in the Senate. Santorum also noted that Paul has ranked 145th among Republicans in the House this year. Paul attempted to discredit conservative ratings, and came very close to outing his past as a capital-l Libertarian. Paul dropped out of the GOP to oppose Ronald Reagan as a Libertarian candidate in the 1980s.

Gingrich seemed to stay around the edges until about 22 minutes in, when he bashed the current federal government’s role as a “disaster” and hammered the Obama administration for suing Arizona rather than helping it with border security. Gingrich called for balancing the budget, lowering taxes and modernizing the entire government as the way forward. He was at his professorial best, displaying forward thinking and creativity while noting the current president’s hostility toward border security.

Fireworks touched off at the 27 minute mark, when Romney and Santorum sparred over earmarks. Romney promised to ban earmarks in Congress, and noted that while he was asking for earmarks for the  Olympics, Santorum was voting in favor of earmarks for the “bridge to nowhere.” Romney and Santorum waded into the process weeds and earned boos. Romney criticized Gingrich for leading earmarks as speaker, Santorum criticized Ron Paul for championing earmarks, and everyone seemed to agree that earmarks are bad. But they’re a fact of the past and largely of the present. Boos peppered the exchanges until Gingrich capped the debate. Paul finished it off with a passionate defense of earmarks, and yet another slam on spending money “on all these wars.” For a Constitutionalist, Paul consistently rails against spending that is actually allowed by the Constitution, on national defense.

After the break, a question that CNN plucked from its website earned a heavy round of boos. The question was: Which candidates support contraception and why? Gingrich took the question and thrashed the media for failing to ask Barack Obama about his extremist position on infanticide during the 2008 campaign. Romney then stepped up and ripped Obama for the ObamaCare abortifacient mandate, calling it “unbelievable.” Romney offered details about a previous Obama decision, struck down 9-0 by the US Supreme Court, to have government determine who in a church is or is not a minister for taxation purposes. King turned the question back on Santorum, to push him into a corner for speaking to the problems of illegitimacy in our culture. Santorum did not back down, but also noted that just because he talks about it doesn’t mean he wants a government program to fix it. “That’s what they (liberals) do!”