Candidates engage in first Twitter debate
July 20th, 2011
06:04 PM ET
3 years ago

Candidates engage in first Twitter debate

(CNN) – In the first-ever presidential Twitter debate, six Republican White House hopefuls took to tweeting Wednesday about the debt ceiling, jobs and national security.

The debate required candidates to answer questions in 140 characters or less, the maximum amount of space allowed on Twitter for a single tweet. The candidates were allowed to use additional tweets for the same subject, but brevity was encouraged.

Participating candidates included Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

An internet-based tea party group - TheTeaParty.net - hosted the event, while conservative commentator S.E. Cupp moderated.

The debate got off to a slow start due to technical issues, but the tweets soon began firing off at a rate of 180 tweets per minute, according to statistics released by Cupp.

The event also generated more than 3,800 mentions and 4,500 re-tweets among those following the debate.

According to other statistics released on the site, Bachmann gained the most followers by the end of the debate with 578, and Cain had the most re-tweets, with 1,188.

But if there were a "Twitter Primary," Gingrich would win by a landslide. He has more than 1.3 million followers, while none of the other candidates top 70,000.

For the debate, each candidate was allowed to write an opening statement, which came in the form of three or four tweets per participant.

Gingrich, somewhat circumventing the Twitter-only interaction with the debate's followers, posted a link to a nearly three-minute video he made special for the event.

"Newtgingrich: If I am elected the next time a president says the era of big govt is over…he'll mean it. My intro vid http://t.co/ci5sEw0"

After opening statements, Cupp began framing her questions around the economy, first asking candidates how they would avoid raising the debt ceiling after taking office.

All said they would push for a Balanced Budget Amendment. And when it came to entitlement reform, it was Medicare, Medicaid and President Barack Obama's health care reform that candidates said would go on the chopping block.

And as their abbreviated remarks show, the candidates didn't hold back typing in Twitter-speak.

"RickSantorum: I am the only candidate that wrote & helped pass a bill (welfare) that actually ended a fed entitlement w D votes. Leadership!"

When asked about weighing the costs from the war on terror against the debt crisis, some candidates said the two issues had nothing to do with each other.

"GovGaryJohnson: Exploding debt crisis b/c of exploding politician spending in Washington, not b/c of national security"

"newtgingrich: We spend less on defense today as % of GDP than at any time since Pearl Harbor"

"ThadMcCotter: implosion was caused by welfare state spending on favored constituencies, not by our army securing liberty."

Moving on to Libya, all candidates said they would not have sent military forces to intervene in Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown against civilians.

"TeamBachmann: There is no vital US interest in #Libya. Worse, we might be aiding terrorist groups by supporting the Libyan opposition."


"RickSantorum: I would not go anywhere unless our nat security was at stake. It seems clear that was not the case."

Cupp then asked which policies the candidates would enact without congressional approval. Some said they would repeal "Obamacare," while others said that would cut down on regulatory agencies.

"GovGaryJohnson: As President, I would reduce the regulatory authority of executive agencies in order to ease burdens on businesses."

Candidates were also questioned on what they predict for the role of the tea party in 2012.

"RickSantorum: The Tea Party is now the backbone of the conservative movement. It will help elect a principled conservative leader for 2012."

"TeamBachmann: Despite media misrepresentations the #TEAPARTY represents all Americans; disaffected Dems, independents, libertarians, and GOP"

At the end of the debate, each candidate was asked one question by a Twitter follower, with most questions revolving around how each candidate would deal with the economy.

Bachmann was asked, "Why isn't anyone talking about the 47% of Americans that don't pay taxes?"

"TeamBachmann: I am. Simple. Fair. Flat. Everyone should pay something."

Cain was asked if he had a plan to replace "Obamacare," rather than just replace it.

"THEHermanCain: I wou promote a healthcare plan that would focus on controlling costs, and it would certainly allow individuals to choose Drs."

The debate lasted about an hour, and while it lacked any back and forth between the candidates, themselves, the event did manage to get short answers from politicians–a hard feat to come by.

– CNN Political Producer Shannon Travis contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2012 • Republicans
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. once upon a horse

    nothing replaces having a debate FACE to FACE where you can look into your opponents eyes and either defend your positions or question theirs. Besides so far NONE of these participating in this debate I see having a chance at being POTUS.

    July 20, 2011 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  2. The Greedy Old Pigs have declared class war on US!

    Wake me up when a single one of those GOBPbaggin' nutjobs calls for corporations or the ultrawealthy to share the sacrifices the rest of us are making. I expect I'll sleep quite soundly.

    July 20, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  3. logic in LA

    Do you want to know why we have bad leaders? Because we get to know them in sound bites. Even "real" debates give a maximum of 2 minutes for an answer. Do we really think our economy, defense, healthcare system, and domestic policy can be answered in such a short time? Answer- it can't. And a Twitter debate takes it to an all-time low.

    July 20, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  4. J

    Anything that limits politicians to 140 characters or less is a victory in my book.

    July 20, 2011 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  5. NYC REPUB

    Lame....Obama 2012!!!
    Though McCotter plays a good guitar.

    July 20, 2011 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  6. John Smith

    I am a Marine currently deployed to Afghanistan and I am ashamed to see how pathetic our nation has become. A Twitter debate are you serious? How can you possibly be to lazy to have an actual debate, in my opinion they should all be striken from the ballet.

    July 20, 2011 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  7. Warforprofit

    Where's Ron Paul? What kind of crap is this?

    July 20, 2011 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  8. D-Nice

    Because we can solve all the country's problems in 140 characters or less.. Unbelievable...

    July 20, 2011 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  9. steven harnack

    So Cain would destroy a program that does exactly what he claims to support?. Once again this crew specifically answers nothing. Sounds to me like they all want to rule by slogans and decrees.

    July 20, 2011 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  10. IEK

    "Why isn't anyone talking about the 47% of Americans that don't pay taxes?" – And yet I hear about it on a daily basis.

    July 20, 2011 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  11. Andrew

    Love the use of technology. However, how do you know that the actual candidate is engaging in the debate/discourse?

    July 20, 2011 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. David Stone

    Why is Newt still trying to run? Does he really think anyone will vote for him?

    July 20, 2011 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  13. bluemax77

    Gingrich nearly missed the debate as he couldn’t find the on / off switch...

    July 20, 2011 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |