WASHINGTON — Key moments in Thursday night's GOP presidential debate:
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a frontrunner among the Republican contenders, defended the 2008 bank bailout under President George W. Bush — a position that will put him starkly at odds with the tea party.
The $700 billion Wall Street rescue package, Romney said, "was designed to keep not just a collapse of individual banking institutions, but to keep the entire currency of the country worth something."
To be sure, Romney conceded the bailout's problems: "Was it perfect? No. Was it well-implemented? No, not particularly. Were there some institutions that should not have been bailed out? Absolutely."
Herman Cain, who wrote in 2008 that the bailout was a win-win for the taxpayer, said the bailout's implementation "is where it got off track."
Other notable moments:
— In the spotlight: Businessman Herman Cain did more of the talking, touting often his so-called 9-9-9 flat-tax plan. That didn't stop a retort from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tax lawyer by profession, who told Cain, "when you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil's in the details."
— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich brought out his fierce intellectual demeanor, assailing Congress for adopting "a truly stupid bill" that would impose automatic spending cuts if budget compromises can't be met by late November. Gingrich said: "We're either going to shoot ourselves in the head or cut off our right leg. And we'll come in — around Thanksgiving — and we'll show you how we're going to cut off the right leg. And the alternative will be shooting ourselves in the head."
— None of the candidates brought up cap-and-trade, a practice aimed at tamping down pollution by giving economic incentives — and one usually attacked by Republicans.
— "I'm afraid that people who've looked at this in the past have been played like a fiddle by the Chinese. And the Chinese are smiling all the way to the bank, taking our currency and taking our jobs and taking a lot of our future." — Mitt Romney.
— "We have to get used to the fact that as far as the eye can see into the 21st century, it's going to be the United States and China on the world stage." — Jon Huntsman.
— "I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business." — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
— Huntsman, when asked if he favored Cain's 9-9-9 flat tax program, replied: "I think it's a catchy phrase. In fact, I thought it was a price of a pizza when I first heard about it, Herman." Cain, the former chairman and chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, later fought back: "It didn't come off a pizza box, no. It was well-studied and well-developed."
— On Cain and his flat-tax plan: "Explain why, under your plan, all Americans should be paying more for milk, for a loaf of bread and beer?" asked one questioner. "I don't buy beer," Cain replied.
"Pennsylvania is not the gas capital of the country; Washington, D.C., is the gas capital of the country." — Jon Huntsman, responding to quibbling among candidates over whose state was indeed the gas capital — the petroleum kind, that is.