Primary Debates and Forums

NBC News/POLITICO/Reagan Foundation Debate

screen grab
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA from
8:00 p.m.-9:45 p.m. ET.  1, 2

Sponsors:  NBC News, POLITICO and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

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.

Co-Moderators:  “NBC Nightly News” anchor and managing editor Brian Williams and POLITICO editor-in-chief John F. Harris.  Also Q&A session by “Noticiero Telemundo” anchor Jose Diaz-Balart.


Broadcast:  Live on MSNBC; also airing on CNBC, as well as in Spanish on Telemundo, and will stream live on and

Format:  One minute answers; 30 seconds for follow ups and rebuttals at the moderators' discretion.  No opening or closing statements.

Overview:  This debate was originally scheduled for May 2 but on March 30 the Reagan Foundation announced there were too few candidates "for a debate to be worthwhile" and moved the date to September 14.  On May 3 they announced the shift to September 7.  

All eyes were on Gov. Rick Perry; this was his first debate since he announced his candidacy and he was already seen as a frontrunner.  At one point Perry observed, "I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," but he held his own.  Perry showed himself to be quite outspoken, for example defending his characterization of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme."  "Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids," Perry stated.  On global warming he said, "The idea that we would put Americans' economy in jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just nonsense."

There were quite a few sharp exchanges.  For example at one point, Gov. Perry stated, "Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt."  Former Gov. Romney, at Perry's immediate right, responded, "Well as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor."

Observers were just about unanimous that Rep. Bachmann did not fare well; "invisible" was one description that appeared a number of times.  Meanwhile, former Gov. Huntsman was seen to have had a fairly strong performance.

Some conservatives questioned the objectivity of moderators; Richard Viguerie wrote in advance that this would be an event in which "liberal reporters and commentators club Republican candidates for president."  Former Speaker Gingrich reprised his tactic from the Ames debate, telling John Harris, "Well I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other."  "We are all for defeating Barack Obama," he stated to enthusiastic applause.  Excluded candidate Rep. Thaddeus McCotter tweeted, "MSNBC panel questions frame GOP as extreme.  Thus, it's not a debate amongst the GOP; it's a defamation of the GOP."

1. See also #ReaganDebate