Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) – Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman participated in a dialogue devoid of “gotcha moments” and “efforts to trap each other” when the men teamed up for a Lincoln-Douglas-styled debate Monday at Saint Anselm College.
Former House Speaker Gingrich and the former U.S. ambassador and Utah Gov. Huntsman engaged in a friendly and subdued conversation about foreign policy. They were effusive in their praise of one another and largely supported each other’s positions.
Both candidates agreed that Iran’s nuclear program is the biggest national security threat of the next decade and that all options should be on the table. But neither Huntsman nor the moderator challenged Gingrich on one of his more provocative statements, alleging there is a movement in Iran in which children are being recruited to be suicide bombers.
“The Iranians are every month getting a little closer to producing a nuclear weapon. In my judgment they will use it,” said Gingrich. “A movement - which recruits its own children to learn how to be suicide bombers and sends them into a bus station, or into a mall or into a restaurant to blow themselves up in order to kill you - is a movement which with nuclear weapons, would use them in a heartbeat because there’s no effective deterrent.”
After the debate Huntsman was asked about Gingrich’s charges about Iranian children.
“I can’t speak to that. I think it’s more a hypothetical,” he said.
The bottom-tier candidate was asked why he didn’t challenge the former House speaker during the debate and Huntsman said, “We had a discussion on the issues and we laid it out for the American people and, you know, they can take from it what they want.”
Huntsman, who also served as the top diplomat in Indonesia and Singapore, touted his experience in the Asia-Pacific region. Just over an hour into the debate Huntsman relayed a quote in Mandarin.
Gingrich praised the “sophisticated” and “substantive” discussion thanks to the format of the hour-and-a-half debate.
Huntsman agreed, but poked a little fun at the upcoming debate that real estate mogul and reality show host Donald Trump is moderating. To date, only Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have agreed to participate.
“I can’t wait to compare and contrast this format with the Donald Trump debate with the speaker,” said Huntsman.
Huntsman injected a little humor midway through the debate when he pointed out his 12-year-old daughter in the audience.
“I can see my daughter nodding off over there, which means I’ve already gone on too long anyway,” he said, referring to Gracie Mei. “By the way, she’s also my senior foreign policy adviser so that’s not a good thing.”
Gingrich chimed in, “I just want to say, in her defense, she was nodding off while I spoke.”
The former speaker often says in his stump speech that if he wins the nomination, he will challenge President Barack Obama to a series of three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates. If the president doesn't show, Gingrich vows to chase him around the country.
"If they would rather have me chase him all the way to Election Day and have the country watch a man afraid to defend his own record, I think that will work equally well," Gingrich has said in recent weeks.
The Lincoln-Douglas debate style is only between two people and allows for longer questions. It received its name during the 1858 debates between Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democratic presidential candidate Stephen Douglas.
Between August and October, Lincoln and Douglas debated the key issue of slavery over seven debates. The format was different then, though. One candidate spoke for 90 minutes, then the other for 60 minutes and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute response.
Apparently, Huntsman liked the format so much that he invited former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to participate in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate before New Hampshire’s Jan. 3 primary. Huntsman’s campaign sent a letter over to the Romney campaign Monday evening.
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