Republican Debate: Little Pro-Life Focus, Perry Stumbles

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 23, 2011   |   10:23AM   |   Washington, DC

Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate saw little focus on substantive issues of interest to pro-life voters — with only Texas Rep. Ron Paul fielding a question about the issue of abortion. The debate also saw pro-life Texas Gov. Rick Perry stumble.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked the only question of the night related to pro-life issues and it went to Paul, the libertarian candidate making his latest attempt at the Republican nomination:

“Congressman Paul, you have said that you believe that life begins at conception and that abortion ends an innocent life. If you believe that, how can you support a rape exception to abortion bans, and how can you support the morning-after pill? Aren’t those lives just as innocent?” Kelly asked.

“They may be, but the way this is taken care of in our country, it is not a national issue. This is a state issue,” Paul responded.

Paul then talked about enforcement of laws against abortions in cases of rape or incest and confused such a law with the morning after pill. While that drug, which may cause an abortion in some instances, is used shortly after intercourse, women seeking a surgical abortion or one with the RU 486 abortion drug would not have an abortion until at least 6-7 weeks into pregnancy.

“There are circumstances where doctors in the past have used certain day-after pills for somebody with rape. And, quite frankly, if somebody is treated, you don’t even know if a person is pregnant, you don’t even know if there’s a disease, but if it’s 24 hours after rape, I don’t know where — how you’re going to police it,” Paul said. “So I don’t think you should create — we have too many laws already. Now, how are you going to police the day-after pill? It doesn’t make any sense to me in a practical matter.”

“So I don’t think you should create — we have too many laws already. Now, how are you going to police the day-after pill? It doesn’t make any sense to me in a practical matter,” Paul concluded.

The remainder of the debate focused on other political issues and the consensus from conservative political commentators is that Perry stumbled in what is his third debate performance since entering the contest for the GOP nomination.

“Rick Perry entered tonight’s Republican presidential debate with an opportunity to reverse the image of him as a poor speaker that had slowed the momentum of his campaign. Instead, he reinforced it,” says Jonathan Tobin of Commentary. “Perry may have started out strong, but once again, his energy and focus seemed to leave him in the second hour of the debate. He clearly flubbed a chance to nail Romney on health care as well as his other changes of position.”

“Even worse for Perry, immigration emerged as an issue in which the Texas governor has taken a position that, however justified, allows his main rival Mitt Romney​ to outflank him on the right. That’s a potentially crippling blow to Perry, because it could serve to distract conservatives from Romney’s sponsorship of the law that inspired Obamacare and the other flip-flops that have defined his political career,” Tobin continued. “Once again, Romney showed himself to be a superior debater. Though he didn’t win every exchange with Perry, especially at the start of the debate, by the end of the evening, there was no question the Texan was faltering.”

“While Perry has done well on the stump, he just can’t seem to keep it together at these debates. Coming off his poor performances in the previous two debates, you have to wonder why his preparation was so poor for the third. That either speaks to his shortcomings or an arrogant refusal to understand mistakes have to be corrected,” Tobin said.

Perry saw his strong lead begin to evaporate after the first and second debates and Tobin predicts Romney may very well catch Perry in the polls after this third exchange.

“Since we know reaction to the past two debates first slowed Perry’s momentum and then trimmed what had become an impressive lead, we can only expect his even worse performance in Orlando will further diminish his standing. Perry needs to understand these debates are killing his candidacy,” he writes. “While he may think the fact the next debate won’t be until Oct. 11 is good news for him, that also means he must wait three weeks for another chance to do better.”

Robert McCain of the American Spectator agrees.

“Rick Perry may have forfeited his lead in the Republican presidential field during Thursday night’s debate,” he said. “Debate observers — including a Fox News focus group assembled by pollster Frank Luntz — seemed almost unanimous in agreement that Perry lost Thursday’s debate, which would make him now 0-for-3 in debates since entering the GOP field last month.”

“The Texas governor has seen a clear erosion in his lead over Romney. In six of the first eight polls taken after Perry announced his candidacy Aug. 13, he had a double-digit lead over Romney nationally, whereas the past five polls show Romney within single digits. A Rasmussen poll released Wednesday showed Perry with just a 28%-24% lead over Romney. And given Perry’s weak showing Thursday, he and Romney will probably be neck-and-neck in the next round of national polls,” McCain continued.

“Romney obviously stands to gain most from Perry’s stumbles, but other Republican candidates also helped themselves Thursday,” he added — noting that other observers said Rick Santorum or Herman Cain could stand to benefit.

Ultimately, he concluded: “Many of Perry’s supporters may agree with former American Spectator reporter Philip Klein, now with the Examiner, who said last night that the Texas governor is “going to have to step up his game.… In short, Perry has not blown it, but he is blowing it.”