If you didn't watch the Republican debate cosponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and televised on CNN, you probably made the right decision, because it was disappointingly dull. Highlights, or lowlights, depending on how you see it:
The first nine minutes were CNN Wolf Blitzer introducing himself, followed by the National Anthem performed by someone from the Tony Award-winning "Jersey Boys," which is now playing in Washington. That time might have been used for a question about, say, Europe. But alas.
Herman Cain must not have been paying close attention to the part where Mr. Blitzer introduced himself, because he referred to the moderator as "Blitz," before catching and correcting himself. Mr. Blitzer responded wittily, "Thank you, Cain."
The candidates were allowed to introduce themselves. Newt Gingrich said his father spent 27 years in the infantry. Michele Bachmann wished the servicemen a Happy Thanksgiving. Jon Huntsman said he was the father of seven children, two serving in the navy. Mitt Romney said he is the grandfather of 16.
President Reagan's attorney general, Ed Meese, of the Heritage Foundation, started things off with a question about a long-range extension of the Patriot Act. Mr. Gingrich raised him: "I'd look at strengthening it." Mr. Gingrich went on, "All of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives."
Ron Paul said the Patriot Act "undermines our liberty" and advised, "don't be willing to sacrifice liberty for security."
Ms. Bachmann faulted the Obama administration for reading terrorists their rights. "They don't have rights," she said.
Governor Perry said he'd privatize the Transportation Security Administration's airport screeners. "I'd privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of the unions," he said.
Rick Santorum said he'd profile muslims and "younger males."
Mr. Paul corrected Ms. Bachmann's assertion that the "terrorists" don't have rights. "No, they are suspects," he said.
Mr. Cain said he doesn't want to profile muslims at airports, disagreeing with Mr. Santorum.
Mr. Huntsman called for term limits on Congress. "We don't need to nation build in Afghanistan. We need to nation build in this country," he said.
Mr. Perry said he'd end all American aid to Pakistan. "I would not send them one penny, period," he said.
Ms. Bachmann said, "With all due respect to the governor, I think that's highly naive." She had mentioned earlier that Pakistan had "15 nuclear sites penetrable by jihadists," and said that six attempts on the nuclear sites had already been made.
Mr. Perry proposed a trade zone to include India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Mr. Romney rebuked Mr. Huntsman for wanting to get American troops out of Afghanistan too fast. "This is not time for American to cut and run," he said.
Mr. Huntsman replied with a reminder of Vietnam, "People listened to the generals in 1967," he said.
Mr. Gingrich faulted a question about America's attack on Bin Laden bringing U.S.-Pakistan relations to a new low: "Well, it should have, because we should be furious," he said.
Ron Paul said he wouldn't help Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities. "That's their business," he said. "They should take care of themselves." He asked rhetorically why America should "send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel."
Mr. Perry called for a no-fly zone over Syria and sanctions on Iran's central bank. Later, he said, "If we're gonna be serious about saving Israel, we better get serious about Syria and Iran."
Mr. Romney complained that the failure of the supercommittee meant "They're cutting a trillion dollars out of the military."
Mr. Paul responded, "They're not cutting anything out of anything. All this talk is just talk."
Mr. Romney called for indicting President Ahmadinejad of Iran for violating the Genocide Convention, and said that if he is elected president, his first foreign trip would be to Israel. Mr. Santorum said his first presidential trip would also be to Israel.
Mr. Gingrich pointed out that America had defeated Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months. He didn't explain how that squared with his earlier statement that "All of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives."
Mr. Perry said that if Secretary of Defense Panetta is an honorable man "he would resign in protest" at the defense cuts, which he said meant "putting young men and women's lives in jeopardy." He emphasized the lives — "young men and women's LIIIIAAUUHVES! in jeopardy."
Ron Paul said he is against the war on drugs.
Mr. Cain and Mr. Romney said they disagreed with Mr. Perry's no-fly-zone proposal for Syria. Mr. Romney noted that the Syrian government has 5,000 tanks. "Maybe a no-drive zone," he said.
There was an extended discussion of immigration, which some of the candidates began to chafe at by the end of the discussion. "The idea of focusing a Republican debate on amnesty and who we are going to give it to is a huge mistake," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich, and Ms. Bachmann all came out in favor of cost-free job-creating idea no. 6, which AEI's Nick Schulz asked about. Mr. Gingrich came out sounding the most friendly to illegal immigrants, saying that illegals who came here 25 years ago and now belong to churches, pay taxes, and have American children and grandchildren should not be separated from their families and expelled. "Let's be humane," Mr. Gingrich said. Mr. Perry expressed agreement with him, but Ms. Bachmann and Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich's position, saying it would create incentives for illegal immigration.
Bottom line: There's a split between Mr. Romney and Mr. Perry and Mr. Santorum, who are the hawks, and Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Paul, who are more dovish. There's a subtle split on immigration, too, though they all basically say they are in favor of legal immigration and against illegal immigration. I can't imagine that watching this debate will have changed the minds of many voters, but I could be wrong. The AEI and Heritage people got to feel important because they got to ask the candidates some questions, but to my mind the whole thing was somewhat unsatisfying, perhaps because there still isn't one of these candidates that I am really unreservedly enthusiastic about. Mr. Gingrich probably got it about right when he observed that these debates have a way of getting bogged down in discussions of tactics — would you help Israel bomb Iran's nukes? — when the questions that really matter more involve strategy — are you serious about changing the regime in Iran?