Primary Debates and Forums

CNN/Heritage Foundation/AEI Debate on National
Security and Foreign Policy

screen grab
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC from
8:00  p.m.-10:00 p.m. ET.  1, 2

Sponsors:  CNN, The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Candidates:  Rep. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum.

Moderator:  CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Audience:  About 2,500.

Broadcast:  CNN, CNN en Español, CNN International, CNN Radio and

Format:  In addition to Blitzer, foreign policy experts from AEI and The Heritage Foundation posed questions to the candidates. CNN solicited questions and comments submitted in real-time from, the CNN Politics fan page on Facebook and by using the #CNNDebate hashtag on Twitter.

Overview:  This debate was announced on Oct. 17 as a debate on foreign policy and national security to be held on Nov. 15.  However, on Oct. 25 CBS and National Journal announced a debate on national security and foreign policy to be held on Nov. 12.  CNN then moved its date back to Nov. 22 to allow more time between debates.  A question or two focused on the economy, given the congressional super committee's announcement of its failure to reach an agreement the day before, but moderator Blitzer and the questioners from Heritage and AEI did a good job of keeping the national security focus from former Attorney General Ed Meese's opening question about the Patriot Act to the closing question on overlooked threats from AEI's Marc Thiessen.  In between there were questions on everything from Iran to foreign aid to immigration.  More than in past debates, Rep. Ron Paul stood out with his forceful and consistent advocacy of non-interventionist policies.

The issue which will likely have the most post-debate repercussions was illegal immigration.1  Former Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed a fairly moderate view on the subject, which is not new, but which stood out when contrasted directly with some of the other candidates' views and which could cost him support among some conservatives.  "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out," Gingrich stated.  Rep. Michelle Bachmann framed the issue differently, stating, "...I don't agree that you would make 11 million workers legal, because that, in effect, is amnesty."  Former Gov. Mitt Romney said that, "[T]o say that we're going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you're all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing."  Romney's view was sharply criticized by Democrats.
In contrast to past debates, there was an amazingly equal distribution of time.2

1.  On Nov. 23, the DNC issued a video "Mitt Romney on Immigration.  Dishonest.  To the Extreme," and the accompanying press release characterized Romney as "the most extreme, right wing presidential candidate on the issue of immigration ever." Also on Nov. 23 the Obama campaign organized a conference call on "Mitt Romney’s attack on a humane immigration policy" with Congressman Silvestre Reyes (TX-16) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charles Gonzalez (TX-20). 

Meanwhile, the anti-illegal immgration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALI PAC) issued a statement:

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is predicting that the Gingrich campaign will implode in reaction to Speaker Gingrich's support for Dream Act Amnesty during tonight's CNN debate. ALIPAC successfully predicted the implosion of Rick Perry's campaign immediately following Perry's debate support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

"Newt Gingrich's campaign will now take the 'Perry Plunge' due to his support for Dream Act Amnesty," said William Gheen, President of ALIPAC. "Newt Gingrich is finished!"

Rick Perry fell from first place to fourth place in many polls following his debate support for in-state tuition for illegal aliens. ALIPAC was quoted across the nation correctly predicting "Perry is finished."

2. Wes Hemings analysis at "Dawn of the Weak" found 1:15:48 of total candidate talk time: Gingrich (11:59), Romney (11:29), Perry (10:55), Paul (9:57), Bachmann (9:16), Huntsman (8:45), Santorum (7:56) and Cain(5:31).

See also: AEI debate page.  Heritage debate page.