The Republican presidential race gets personal

In a desperate bid to knock frontrunner Mitt Romney off his perch, the other candidates got nasty.

 

It's already being called Las Vegas Fight Night -- the moment the Republican presidential rivals turned the heat on each other, and the moment it all got personal.

In a desperate bid to knock frontrunner Mitt Romney off his seemingly inevitable course, the rest of the pack piled into him during last night's GOP debate, attacking his stance on everything, from immigration to healthcare.

The man most desperate to restore some glitter to his rapidly fading star, Rick Perry, could barely contain his hostility. There were narrowed eyes. There was shouting. There was even some actual snarling.

It all came to a head over an episode in 2007 when Romney hired a lawn company which was later found to have employed illegal immigrants. Not so much a debate, more of a slanging match ensued, as Perry went in for the kill (see video above). "The idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy." Romney fired back, with a sort of hollow laugh: "Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that." That made Perry even madder: "It's time for you to tell the truth".

Outside, chief strategists for the two men were frantically trying to spin this loss of cool -- Perry's man accusing Romney of being "very rattled" -- while the Romney lot called Perry a desperate hothead.

And we haven't even got around to Herman Cain yet. The man who's been briefly enjoying his moment as the anyone-but-Romney favourite had an even worse night.

In the debate itself, he came under repeated questioning over his 9-9-9 tax plan, which wasn't helped by a report from the non-partisan Tax Policy Centre. They said his proposals would cut taxes for 95 per cent of America's millionaires, while raising them for most people earning less than $100,000. And the six other candidates siezed their chance, dubbing it dangerous and simplistic.

Asked about foreign policy, the former pizza mogul was stumbling all over the place. At one stage, he said he could see himself negotiating with al-Qaeda, if he were elected. He later had to back down on the Anderson Cooper show, admitting he had "misspoke", before blundering on: "Because I didn't, you know, things are moving so fast, I misspoke."

Turns out he'd got himself all confused between the whole al-Qaeda thing and Israel's decision to release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in a man vying to be the figure with his finger on the nuclear button.

This, after FEC returns showed Cain spent $36,000 of his campaign funds buying copies of his own book, perhaps in an effort to keep it in the New York Times bestseller list.

Last night, though, was really all about Romney, or stopping Romney. As Politico put it, for his rivals "it's a strategic imperative to halt the frontrunner". Yet all the acrimony, the shouting matches, and the attacks on each other may not have impressed any wavering voters who tuned in. And one man -- President Obama -- got off relatively unscathed. He is deep in traditional Republican territory, trying to drum up support in North Carolina and Virginia.

On that note, perhaps the last word should go to one of those warring Republicans, Newt Gingrich, who warned that "maximising bickering" might not be the best way to win the White House.

 

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News

 

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.