The top news out of tonight's CNBC Republican presidential debate was probably Governor Rick Perry's memory lapse, in which he couldn't remember the third cabinet department he wanted to eliminate. He started with Commerce and Education, but he just couldn't remember what the third one was, even when pressed. "I can't...the third one....I can't. Sorry. Oops," he said, in a way that made me just feel sorry for the poor man. He should read Joshua Foer's Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.
Much later in the debate, Mr. Perry said, "By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago."
Other news that came from remarks by those candidates doing well in the early polls: For the first time in a debate, Herman Cain addressed the complaints against him. "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations," he said. "The voters are saying they don't care about the character assassination."
Governor Romney expanded on how he'd handle the question of China trade. "I love free trade, but I will crack down on cheaters like China," he said. He said he'd bring a case against China for currency manipulation before the World Trade Organization and "apply, if necessary, tariffs." President Obama's ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, who is also a Republican presidential candidate, called that "pandering," to which Mr. Romney replied, "I understand free trade. I like free trade. But I've also seen predatory pricing." Mr. Romney said the Chinese were just keeping prices low until competitors went out of business, and that they plan to raise prices later.
Earlier in the debate, Mr. Romney stumbled over how many years he had been married to his own wife, but somehow that seemed less spectacular a blunder than Mr. Perry's, perhaps because Mr. Perry had a pre-existing image of having trouble in debates.
When he wasn't speaking of China or his wife, Mr. Romney was pretty consistent and articulate in praising markets and criticizing President Obama. To get the economy going, Mr. Romney said, "Do almost the exact opposite of what President Obama has done."
"Markets work," Mr. Romney said. "The reason we have the housing crisis we have is that the federal government played too heavy a hand."
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both were critical of the press. Mr. Gingrich rejected as "absurd" an invitation to summarize his health care plan in 30 seconds, though he did go on to call for a push in "brain science" that he said had the potential to address Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and mental illness. Mr. Santorum said of his plan to cut taxes on manufacturers to zero, "I understand, John, that the Wall Street Journal won't like that I'm picking one sector over another. I don't care."
Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney both rejected increases in the payroll tax, which has been temporarily cut. "I'm not prepared to raise taxes on working Americans in the middle of a recession," Mr. Gingrich said.
"I don't want to raise taxes on people in the middle of a recession," Mr. Romney said. "I don't want to raise any taxes, anywhere."
Michele Bachmann said she had opposed the payroll tax cut to begin with and would not oppose restoring the tax to its pre-cut level. She also weighed in on the China issue, saying that China had dumped counterfeit computer chips in America that are being used in American defense systems, and that China had built 3,000 miles of underground tunnels for nuclear weapons. She said America is sending so much in interest payments on our debt to China that by 2015 we will be paying for the entire People's Liberation Army.
Rep. Ron Paul said the reason Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are being funded by the taxpayers "is to prop up the banks." He also said the Fed is giving banks money at 0%, which the banks are then loaning back to the government at 3%. "Inflation, higher prices, watch out, they are coming," Mr. Paul said.