(CNSNews.com) – Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he would far rather have had former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program than Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Maybe we would have gotten a deal where we didn’t give everything away,” Perry said during the first of two Republican presidential debates hosted by Fox News in Cleveland, Ohio.
“One of the great challenges that we have: $150 billion is fixing to go to a country that killed our Marines in Lebanon, that used their weapons to kill our young men in Iran (sic),” said Perry, referring to Tehran’s leading role in the 1983 Beirut bombings and a deadly IED campaign in Iraq during the latter years of the war there.
“And the idea that this negotiation – I will tell you one thing, I would whole lot rather have Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry,” he said. “Maybe we would have gotten a deal where we didn’t give everything away.”
In one of the more memorable moments of the “second tier” debate involving seven candidates currently lagging in opinion polls, Perry both slammed the administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear talks and indicated a rare willingness to commend a rival in the crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls.
“The issue for us,” Perry continued, “is to have a Congress that stands up and says not only no, but hell no, to this money going to a regime that is going to use it for terror – [national security advisor] Susan Rice has said that.”
“And we need to stand up and strongly and clearly tell the ayatollah that, whoever the next president of the United States is going to be – and I promise you that if it’s me, the first thing that I will do is tear up that agreement with Iran.”
How to deal with Iran and the threat posed at home and abroad by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) featured prominently in the debate, along with illegal immigration, Planned Parenthood and criticism of President Obama’s executive actions.
Joining Perry and Fiorina on the platform were Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, former New York governor George Pataki, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
It didn’t take long for the issue of Donald Trump – or as moderator Martha MacCallum called him, “the elephant that is not in the room” – to come up.
MacCullum pointed out the feisty entrepreneur’s domination of the social media conversation and invited Perry to comment on the large disparity in poll numbers between himself and the current frontrunner.
Perry said Trump has used his celebrity rather than his conservatism.
‘How can you run for the Republican nomination, and be for single-payer healthcare?” he asked.
Fiorina swiped Trump for his relationship with the Clintons.
“I don’t know, I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton?” she asked, looking across the platform.
“I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I haven’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.”
Fiorina said Trump had changed his mind on amnesty, healthcare and abortion.
“I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?”
Graham underlined repeatedly his intention to be seen as the hawk among the field, calling for more U.S. troops to be deployed in the Middle East to tackle the terrorist threat.
“If I am president of the United States we are going to send soldiers back to Iraq, back to Syria, keep us from being attacked here – and keep soldiers in Afghanistan because we must,” he said.
“If you’re running for president of the United States and you do not understand that we cannot defend his nation without more of our soldiers over there,” Graham said, “you’re not ready for this job.”
Other candidates offering strong words on tackling ISIS and terrorism included Jindal, who slammed the Obama administration’s unwillingness to identify the enemy.
“We’ve got a president who cannot bring himself to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’” he said.
“How can we beat an enemy if our commander-in-chief doesn’t have the moral honesty and clarity to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam?”
“We’ve got a president instead who says we’re going to change hearts and minds,” Jindal said. “You know what, sometimes you win a war by killing murderous, evil terrorists.”