Presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty have retreated on their calls to reinstate “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” the Clinton-era law that bars gay and bisexual troops from serving openly.

Both Republicans had previously made unequivocal calls to bring back the law and keep the policy in place. (Related: Robert Gates eyes June certification of DADT repeal.)

In January, Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, told the AFA's Bryan Fischer that as president he would work to reinstate the law. A month later, he went further, adding that he's okay with withholding funds for implementing the law's repeal.

Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, also told Fischer that he would back reinstatement of DADT.

But both men backed off during Monday night's presidential debate in New Hampshire, leaving only former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum to call for the law's return.

Cain said that while he wouldn't have overturned “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” he doesn't believe it wise to undo it now.

“Now that they have changed it, I wouldn't create a distraction trying to turn it over as president,” Cain said. “Our men and women have too many other things to be concerned about rather than have to deal with that as a distraction.”

Pawlenty said he would defer to military commanders: “We're a nation at two wars. I think we need to pay deference to our military commanders, particularly our combatant commanders. And in this case I would take my cues from them as to how this affects the military going forward. I know they expressed concerns, many of the combatant commanders did, when this was originally repealed by the Obama administration.”

Most of the other candidates said they supported the military gay ban, but none went so far as to unequivocally call for its return, with the exception of Santorum.

“The job of the United States military is to protect and defend the people of this country,” Santorum said. “It is not for social experimentation. It should be repealed.” (The video is embedded in the right panel of this page.)