GOP candidates were expected to face off on foreign policy at tonight’s debate at Spartanburg’s Wofford College. In most cases, they showed solidarity as CBS’s Scott Pelley and the National Journal’s Major Garrett asked them about the Iranian nuclear threat, treatment of enemy combatants, troop involvement in Afghanistan, and other issues.
An illustration of that: CBS’s Scott Pelley asked Newt Gingrich explain a statement he made about Mitt Romney’s leadership shortcomings. Gingrich answered, “No.” He said that was for a national radio show and in this debate, Romney and the rest were better leaders than the president.
The atmosphere in general was collegial. The only speaker who got direct criticism was Ron Paul (R-Texas). He also had the loudest fans in the audience.
A more confident Rick Perry offered, “The foreign aid budget in my administration is going to start at zero dollars, ” which prompted Gingrich and Romney to agree. Michele Bachmann retorted that it was more complicated than that and mentioned Israel as an ally to protect.
At one point, Perry used self-effacing humor to win loud applause and laughter from the South Carolina audience. He was asked about the Department of Energy, the name of the agency that stumped him for agonizing moments during a previous debate.
“Glad you remembered it,” said Perry.
“I’ve had some time to think about it,” Pelley said.
“Me too,” said Perry.
The topic of waterboarding enemy prisoners spurred an intense moment in the evening, beginning with Herman Cain calling the tactic an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Ron Paul adamantly disagreed, characterizing it as “uncivilized and un-American.”
Perhaps more drama was generated after the debate when South Carolina CBS stations did not carry the last 30 minutes, which featured questions from South Carolina’s U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, both Republicans.
And in the press room, the Bachmann camp issued statements that CBS cut camera time for their candidate. Read their complaint here.