MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Newt Gingrich took a respite Monday from battling with Mitt Romney for the top spot on the GOP campaign totem pole to engage in something more to his liking: an affable foreign policy debate with Jon Huntsman.
The event between the former Utah governor and former House Speaker at St. Anselm College in Manchester, billed as a Lincoln-Douglas style debate, was more of a friendly discussion between a former ambassador and former professor.
At one point, Huntsman praised Gingrich for being "a great historian" - a kinder description than he offered at a Sunday media availability, when he dismissed Gingrich as a "professor" to Huntsman's superior "practitioner."
Disagreements were downplayed. When asked about dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran, Huntsman reiterated his standard answer: "All options need to be on the table."
Gingrich, on the other hand, advocated regime change, "because there's no practical scenario in which you can take out their nuclear weapon systems without them rebuilding them."
"A movement which recruits its own children to learn how to be suicide bombers," Gingrich said, "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."
Gingrich added: "If you are an Israeli prime minister, and you remember the Holocaust, and you think about the death of millions of Jews, and you look at the idea that two or three nuclear weapons is a holocaust -- Israel is a very small country, very urban population; no more than three nuclear weapons would be required to equal a holocaust -- and you say to yourself, 'Am I going to take the risk of presiding over the second holocaust, which would mean for all practical purposes virtually the end of Judaism,' you're not going to take the risk."
In remarks to reporters following the debate, Huntsman defended his decision not to engage Gingrich further on Iran.
"Well, he spoke to regime change; I spoke to a missed opportunity in terms of fall of 2009 where he missed an opening with the so-called Persian Spring," Huntsman said. "I think we're talking about the same thing in that regard."
Huntsman declined to address a question about whether he agreed with Gingrich's claim during the debate that if Israel was destroyed by nuclear weapons, it would end Judaism on the planet. But the former Utah governor said he appreciated the debate's format.
"We ought to have more like it," he said. "In fact, I'd like to challenge the other candidates to a similar sit-down; I'd like to challenge Gov. Romney to a sit-down like this. I think it's great for the voters, here in New Hampshire particularly, because we've got a primary right around the corner."
Making good on his remarks, Huntsman's campaign subsequently released a copy of an invitation it sent to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades asking the former Massachusetts governor to engage in a similar debate. There was no immediate response from Romney's campaign.