The first Republican presidential debate in a nutshell

It was Pawlenty's to lose, which he pretty much did

And they’re off…

Given how few big-name potential candidates showed up in Greenville, SC tonight, the debate was really a chance for former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty to introduce himself to a national audience and make some headlines, but it’s hard to see that he made a huge impression. One of his most memorable moments came when Fox News called him out for having supported cap-and-trade and he gave a full-throated apology and mea culpa (“I was wrong, it was a mistake, and I’m sorry”).  He now says would be damaging to the economy.

Pawlenty, who in the past has called Obama “weak” on national security, took a hawkish position. He said he supports waterboarding in some situations. While he said he “tipped his cap” to Obama for hunting down bin Laden, he also took the position that bin Laden was killed thanks to intelligence from Bush-era interrogation techniques that President Obama opposed. (Though this is not clear from the record.) He also called for an ultimatum to Pakistan: cooperate with us in Afghanistan or lose your aid.

His is a much tougher position than the one being taken by Republican committee leaders in the US Congress who say they have “tough questions” for Pakistan’s government about their role in protecting bin Laden, but add that the US has a lot at stake in Pakistan and has been receiving cooperation on a number of fronts, including being allowed to make drone attacks on militants. (See my piece in the new Maclean’s print magazine for more on this subject.) Pawlenty also called the United Nations a “pathetic organization.”

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was the field’s standard bearer for social conservatism. Santorum gave his most impassioned answer when arguing that “rights come from God.” He said there could be “no truce on moral issues” and was forced by Fox News questioners to defend past comments that appeared to link working women and what he called “radical feminism.” (He said he blamed radical feminism for celebrating women’s decision to work—rather than equally celebrating the decision of those who stay home to be wives and mothers.) He said he supports making English the official language of the US calling the “language of success” in America. He criticized Obama for not giving more support to the Iranian student movement and said that anything Obama has done right on foreign policy “was a continuation of Bush.”

Atlanta businessman Herman Cain was the only participant who said he would not release the photo of a dead Osama Bin Laden. He said the war in Libya lacks a “plan for victory” and also took socially conservative positions.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul thinks secret prisons are “authoritarian,” would not support raising the federal debt limit even if it led to a default, believes America’s fiscal problems result from its “militarism,” and doesn’t think many people would try heroin if it were legal.

New Mexico governor Gary Johnson ran 30 marathons, climbed Mount Everest, and wants to legalize pot.

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