GREENVILLE, S.C. — The first Republican presidential primary debate — with some of the key contenders AWOL — kicked off the nomination fight Thursday with shots at President Barack Obama’s domestic and foreign policy.
The faceoff, co-sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party, came just days after Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Bin Laden’s death sharply reoriented the debate among the five candidates here — the first 15 minutes were spent on foreign policy — not jobs, the economy or the national debt, which have been key issues for the GOP.
It also muted some criticism of Obama — and the first time his name came up, it was to praise from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“I do congratulate President Obama for the fine job that he did in making the tough call and being decisive as it related to finding and killing Osama bin Laden,” Pawlenty said. “A good job. I tip my cap to him in that moment.”
But he continued with a sharp dismissal of the rest of Obama’s foreign policy record: “That moment is no the sum total of America’s foreign policy. He’s made a number of other decisions relating to our security here and around the world that I don’t agree with. … To give you one example, in Libya, he made a decision to subordinate our decision-make together United Nations. I don’t agree with that.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum went even further, saying, “The decision that he made with Osama Bin Laden was tactical decision, it wasn’t a strategic decision. The issues that have come up while he’s been president, he’s gotten them wrong strategically every single time.”