The Republican presidential field strayed away from the central 2012 topic of jobs Thursday night to wage a pitched debate over a pair of far more explosive issues: immigration and Social Security.

For the third debate in a row, Romney criticized Perry for saying in his book that “the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that [Social Security is] unconstitutional.”

“There’s a Rick Perry out there” saying Social Security is unconstitutional, Romney told his opponent sarcastically. “You better find that Rick Perry and tell him to stop saying that.”

Perry responded by throwing the flip-flopper label back at Romney, accusing him of tweaking the language in his book for its paperback edition in order to revise his position on the Massachusetts health care law.

“Your hard copy book, you said it was exactly what the American people needed,” Perry said, accusing Romney of backing away from that view.

Romney pushed back by saying he stood behind his book, noting with a hint of contempt: “I actually wrote my book.”

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