Ahead of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, the remaining Republican contenders in the presidential race (bye, Bachmann) debated in a weekend doubleheader. In two debates, a mere 12 hours apart on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the candidates fought for their political lives in the election's first primary. ABC News and WMUR broadcast Saturday's debate at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, and Sunday's NBC News/Facebook debate in Concord, N.H., aired on Meet the Press. Here are the top moments.

1. Paul vs. Gingrich in "Chicken Hawk" Smackdown

Despite Mitt Romney's status as the New Hampshire front-runner, in Saturday's debate his challengers mostly left him alone and beat up one another instead. When Ron Paul doubled down on calling Newt Gingrich a "chicken hawk" for not serving in the military, their heated exchange went a little something like this:

Paul: I think people who don't serve when they could, and they get three or four or even five deferments, they have no right to send our kids off to war … I'm trying to stop the wars, but at least I went when they called me up.


Gingrich: Well, Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question.

Paul: When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids, and I went.

2. Perry Wants to Go Back to Iraq

The last American troops left Iraq before Christmas, but on Saturday Rick Perry explained why he thought the war was so nice, he wants to fight it twice:

I would send troops back into Iraq … The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure — both in blood and money — that we have spent in Iraq, because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women. He could have renegotiated that timeframe. I think it is a huge error for us … [Iran is going] to move back in, and all of the work that we've done, every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing because we've got a president that does not understand what's going on in that region.

3. Paul Punts the Question (but Makes a Point)

Questioned on Saturday about how he could have possibly not known about racist content published in the newsletter he published under his name, Paul deflected first by implying that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were libertarians (huh?), and then disparaged the war on drugs:

I'm the only one up here, and the only one in the Democratic Party, that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws. Look at the percentages. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They're prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately. How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get execution?


4. Gingrich Calls Out Romney's "Pious Baloney"

In a ploy to be seen as an "outsider," in Sunday's debate Romney portrayed himself as an innocent businessman who just wanted to make a difference for the American people. When he claimed that he was never seeking "a political career, running time and time again," Gingrich called B.S.:

Can we drop some of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran in '94 and lost. That's why you weren't serving the Senate with Rick Santorum. The fact is, you had a very bad reelection rating, you dropped out of office, you had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president. You didn't have this interlude of citizenship while you thought about what to do. You were running for president while you were governor, and you were going all over the country, you were out of state consistently. You then promptly re-entered politics you then happen to lose to McCain as you had lost to Kennedy. Now you're back running. You have been running consistently for years and years and years, so this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind, just level with the American people, you've been running since at least the 1990's.


5. Hunstman Stands Up for His Service in China

After being repeatedly hammered for having served in the Obama administration as an ambassador to China, including by Romney the night before, on Sunday Jon Huntsman said that having served in a Democratic administration in no way tarnishes his campaign:

I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first. And I just want to remind the people here in New Hampshire, and throughout the United States, that he criticized me, while he was out raising money, for serving my country in China. Yes, under a Democrat. Like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They're not asking what political affiliation the president is. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country. I will always put my country first.


Romney tried to follow up with the idea that someone who served with President Obama shouldn't be representing the Republican Party, to which Huntsman lashed back: "This nation is divided … because of attitudes like that."

6. Santorum's Family Values

Asked how he would use his bully pulpit as president, on Sunday Santorum said simply that he would focus on the family:

I believe that there's one thing that is undermining this country, and that is the breakdown of the American family. It's undermining our economy … [Poverty is] five times higher in the single parent family. We know there are certain things that work in America … Why isn't the president of the United States, or why aren't leaders in this country, talking about that and trying to formulate, not necessarily federal government policy, but local policy and state policy and community policy to help people do those things that we know work and we know are good for society?


(That is, unless the family is gay.)

7. Romney's Selective Amnesia

In response to Gingrich's bristling on Sunday about the attack ads being run by a pro-Romney super PAC, Romney first claimed that he's never seen the ads. Then, without missing a beat, he detailed what the ads say, point by point:

With regards to their ads, I haven't seen them. And as you know, under the law, I can't direct their ads. If there's anything in them that's wrong, I hope to take it out. But let me tell you this. The the ad I saw said that you'd been forced out of the speakership. That was correct. It said that you'd sat down with Nancy Pelosi and argued for a climate change bill. That was correct. It said that you'd called Paul Ryan's plan to provide Medicare reform a right-wing social engineering plan. It said that as part of an ethics investigation that you had to reimburse some $300,000. Those things are all true.


Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter