GOP debates, round two

After the first GOP presidential candidates debate, we predicted that (a) billionaire Donald Trump might not be a participant in the second debate (at the least, our timing was way off), and (b) Vice President Joe Biden would seek the Democratic nomination (which hasn’t happened yet, but is looking increasingly likely). Two fearless predictions about the presidential race, 8/10/15.

Suitably chastened, we’ll report on the September 16 debate without indulging in speculation about what lies ahead. Overview - recap - concluding observations.

A. Overview - The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library provided a more intimate setting than a cavernous convention hall in Cleveland did for the August 6 debate. The 11 podiums were set up in front of a retired version of “Air Force One” (from the Reagan era); the relatively small spectator area (about 400 seats) was located only a few feet away.

The main event (there was an earlier debate for four second-tier candidates) began at 8:00 PM Eastern Time and lasted three hours. Eleven candidates (the top-tier candidates from the first debate plus Carly Fiorina) participated, with a television audience of 23 million (only slightly lower than the record-smashing audience of 24 million for the first debate).

Jake Tapper of CNN summarized the debate rules as follows: Transcript,
9/16/15 (download PDF).

Candidates, I will try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of questions. You’ll have one minute to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. I’ll give you time to respond if you’ve been singled out for criticism.

Tapper and the other moderators (Dana Bash of CNN, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt) took a different approach than the Fox News moderators in the first debate. Instead of essentially cross-examining the candidates, their game plan was to ask questions that would get the candidates scrapping with each other. CNN to capture candidates’ combative spirit in GOP debate, Ashley Parker, New York Times,
9/15/15.

“My goal is more about: Let’s draw the contrasts between the candidates, and have them fight it out over these policies, over who has the best approach to Putin, over who has the best approach to taxes, over who believes what over immigration reform,” said Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, who is moderating Wednesday’s debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “Have them lay it all out so voters can see it.”

Frontrunner Donald Trump got more air time than any of the other candidates – in large part because so many questions were about him and so many candidates were taking shots at him. Trump on top in debate talk-time race, Tom LoBianco, CNN,
9/17/15.

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According to a poll (680K votes) published by Drudge, Trump won the debate and Carly Fiorina was the runner-up. Who won the 2nd Republican debate ’16, polidaddy.com, 9/16/15.

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Many observers concluded otherwise. Here’s a typical view: Fiorina won the debate; Rubio and Christie gained ground; Trump lost some of his luster but didn’t take any hits below the waterline; Bush improved on a lackluster performance in the first debate; Carson, Cruz & Kasich met expectations; Paul, Huckabee & Walker floundered. Republican debate winners and losers, John Solomon, Washington Times,
9/16/15.

Our analysis will focus on what the candidates said about policy issues and themselves versus what they said about other candidates.

B. Recap – Candidates began with self-introductions and then responded to questions from the moderators (which emphasized international challenges, immigration policy, etc. while largely skipping economic issues).

DONALD TRUMP – I wrote “The Art of the Deal”. I say [that] not in a braggadocios way, I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with people all over the world, and I want to put whatever that talent is to work for this country so we have great trade deals, we make our country rich again, we make it great again. We build our military, we take care of our vets, we get rid of Obamacare, and we have a great life altogether.

Trump gave essentially incoherent answers about how he would handle current problems in Syria and what the president should have done when the Syrian regime crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons. At another point, he said he had opposed the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

When asked to explain how much his plan to deport 11 million or so illegal immigrants would cost and how he would get it done, Trump said he would build a wall that worked and ensure the laws were being enforced because there are some really bad dudes here. Current border security arrangements were said to be costing $200 billion per year.

Trump favors graduated income tax rates; he is planning to publish a tax reform plan in about two weeks.

Trump expressed personal willingness to forego his own Social Security retirement benefits, but fudged about abolishing benefits for all wealthy seniors.

Given an “autism epidemic,” it would make sense to inject childhood vaccines in smaller doses, spaced out.

JEB BUSH – I believe America’s on the verge of its greatest century, and I’m ready to lead. I’m a committed, conservative reformer that cut taxes, that balanced budgets, that took on the special interests in Florida, and we won. I look forward to talking tonight about how we can fix a broken Washington D.C., and create an environment where people can rise up again in this great country.

US should send a firm message about the Chinese cybersecurity threat; there are many tools available, and Bush wouldn’t suggest cancelling the upcoming state dinner.

It’s time to cut off Planned Parenthood and shift the funds to other organizations that provide women’s health programs.

Deportation of illegal immigrants would be enormously expensive and would tear families apart. As for what should be done, Bush wrote a book on the subject three or four years ago that lays out a sound, conservative approach.

It was probably OK for Colorado to legalize marijuana, but the drug problem in this country goes far beyond marijuana and is deadly serious. States must find ways to react constructively, such as drug courts that direct addicts into treatment programs.

Let’s shoot for a sustained economic growth of 4% to start lifting people out of poverty. The government should “reform how we tax, fix the broken regulatory system, embrace the energy revolution in our midst, fix the immigration system so we can turn it into an economic driver, deal with the structural fiscal problems that exist because of our entitlement problems that will overwhelm and create way too much debt.”

CARLY FIORINA – My story, from secretary to CEO, is only possible in this nation, and proves that everyone of us has potential. My husband, Frank, of 30 years, started out driving a tow truck for a family owned auto body shop. We have come to a pivotal point in our nation’s history where this nation’s possibilities and potential are being crushed by a government grown so big, so powerful, so inept, so corrupt, and a political class that refuses to do anything about it. I am prepared to lead the resurgence of this great nation.

Polls show that 75% of Americans think the government is corrupt. Only outsiders can see how bad the system really is; therefore, outsiders are needed to fix it.

Having met Putin, I wouldn’t waste time talking to him. I would begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, reactivate the missile defense program in Poland, and conduct military exercises in the Baltic State. Putin would get the message.

Re the Iranian nuclear deal, it’s time to get serious. I would call the Iranian supreme leader on my first day in office and let him know that “unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we, the United States of America, will make it as difficult as possible [to] move money around the global financial system.”

Re Planned Parenthood, the videos about harvesting fetal body parts are absolutely disgusting. I dare the president and Hillary Clinton to watch them. Republicans should absolutely “stand up” and force President Obama to veto a funding cutoff.

Illegal immigration has been a longstanding problem, and Americans don’t want endless talk, they want action. By the way, why didn’t the Democrats solve the problem while they were in control of both houses of Congress and the White House?

Fiorina touts her record as CEO of Hewlett Packard, even though she wound up being terminated by the board. “Despite those difficult times, we doubled the size of the company, we quadrupled its topline growth rate, we quadrupled its cash flow, we tripled its rate of innovation. Yes, we had to make tough choices, and in doing so, we saved 80,000 jobs, went on to grow to 160,000 jobs. And now Hewlett Packard is almost 300,000 jobs. We went from lagging behind to leading in every product category and every market segment.”

Marijuana is not something to take lightly, it’s not like drinking a few cans of beer. “Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it is taking too many of our young people.”

BEN CARSON – I’m a retired pediatric neurosurgeon. I’m here with my wife, Candy, of 40 years, and two of my sons, and their wives. I stress the pediatric part of my career because the reason that I’ve gotten involved in this race is because I’m very concerned about the future of our children, and the direction of our country is one that does not portend well, unless we, the people, intervene and retake our rightful place at the pinnacle.

Having visited the southern border and talked with border security people, Carson believes that some common sense measures could greatly reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants. As for deporting 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here, he would like to know a lot more about the details.

The US should have a flat tax, something like the biblical system of tithing.

Maybe it would make sense to raise the minimum wage, but for goodness sakes let’s discuss the matter reasonably and then index whatever level is set so we don’t keep having this discussion. It might be a good idea to have two minimums, one for first time workers and one for experienced workers.

Carson opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the current situation in the Middle East is very different because ISIS sprang up when our troops withdrew and left a power vacuum. The US must do what is necessary to set things right.

Let’s build up the military, which has been hollowed out due to funding cuts.

CHRIS CHRISTIE – I’d like to you take the camera off me and put it on the audience because I’d like to ask all of you, how many of you, raise your hand, believe that in today’s Barak Obama America your children will have a better life than you’ve had? You see? That’s why I’m running for President. because leadership is not about me, it’s about our country. And, what we talk about tonight, it’s not about us, it’s about the people in the audience tonight, because in seven short years this president has stripped away their trust, and their faith, and their belief that the next generation will have a better life. He’s stolen that from us, and when I’m president, I’m going to take it back.

Christie brushed aside the notion that he wasn’t an “outsider,” observing that as a Republican governor in a deeply blue state he had bucked the system constantly. “I veto 400 bills from a crazy liberal Democratic legislature, not one of them has been overridden. I’ve vetoed more tax increases than any governor in American history, according to Americans for Tax Reform.”

Securing the border involves more than building a wall. “We need to use electronics . . . use drones . . . use FBI, DEA, and ATF . . . take the fingerprint of every person who comes into this country on a visa, and when they overstay their visa, we need to tap them on the shoulder, and say, ‘you have overstayed your welcome, you’re taking advantage of the American people. It’s time for you to go’ . . . [and then] we wouldn’t have the 11 million people we have now.”

Legalizing recreational use of marijuana is a bad idea, but medical marijuana is OK – and it’s allowed in New Jersey.

Christie advocated Social Security reform as the fiscal problem is far too serious to keep ignoring. “71 percent of all federal spending is on entitlements and debt service. When John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, it was 26 percent. *** We [must] save this program for the good people out there who have paid into the system and need it.”

Without dismissing the manmade global warming theory, Christie characterized many of the proposals for combating climate change as needlessly costly. Thus, New Jersey has already reached its clean air goals for 2020 despite pulling out of the regional cap and trade deal. How was this done? 53 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear. We use natural gas. We’re the third-highest-using solar power state. And we made all of these options economically feasible.

MARCO RUBIO – I’m from Florida. My wife Jeanette and I [have] been married 17 years, and we’re the proud parents of four children, two of whom were able to join us here this evening. I’m honored to be here at the Reagan Library, at a place that honors the legacy of a man who inspired not just my interest in public service, but also our love for country. And I’m also aware that California has a drought, and so that’s why I made sure I brought my own water.

Vladimir Putin “wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force . . . destroy NATO . . . exploit a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East . . . not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad . . . replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it.”

“If the United States military is going to be engaged by a commander-in-chief, it should only be engaged in an endeavor to win. And we’re not going to authorize use of force if you’re not put in a position where they can win.”

We cannot deal with all problems of the immigration system in one massive piece of legislation, I learned that, so here’s the way forward. First, “we must secure our border, the physical border, with — with a wall, absolutely. But we also need to have an entry/exit tracking system. 40 percent of the people who come here illegally come legally, and then they overstay the visa. We also need a mandatory e-verify system.” Second, “modernize our legal immigration system so you come to America on the basis of what you can contribute economically, not whether or not simply you have a relative living here.” And after these two things have been done, “I believe the American people will be very reasonable and responsible about what you do with someone who’s [already] here and isn’t a criminal. If you’re a criminal, obviously, you will not be able to stay.”

These are extraordinarily dangerous times that we live in. A lunatic in North Korea with dozens of nuclear weapons - China with rapidly expanding military and ambitions – a gangster in Moscow who is threatening Europe - radical jihadists in dozens of countries - this horrible deal with Iran. The number one issue that a president will ever confront, and the most important obligation that the federal government has, is to keep this nation safe. Today, we “are eviscerating our military. And we have a president that is more respectful to the ayatollah in Iran than he is to the prime minister of Israel.”

We allowed a vacuum to emerge in Syria. Radical terrorists used it as an operating space to grow; and today they’re not just in Iraq and Syria anymore, they’re also now in Libya, the Sinai, and Afghanistan. “You cannot allow radical jihadists to have an operating safe haven anywhere in the world.”

Re the suggestion that climate change should be fought on the insurance policy theory, “we’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do.” And by the way, if we did go along, it wouldn’t change the climate in any significant way, or even the weather.

We are about to leave our children with $18 trillion in debt, and the debt limit is about to be raised again. If these trends continue, we will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.

TED CRUZ – I am the son of an Irish-Italian mom and a Cuban immigrant dad who fled oppression and came to America seeking freedom. I’m a husband to my best friend, Heidi, who’s here tonight. I’m a dad to two little girls who are the loves of my life, Caroline and Catherine. If you’re fed up with Washington, if you’re looking for someone to stand up to career politicians in both parties, I’m the only one on this stage who has done that over and over again, and if we stand together, we can bring America back.

The Iranian nuclear deal will send over $100 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, making the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism. It abandons four American hostages in Iran, and it will only accelerate Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons. If elected president, “I will rip to shreds” this catastrophic deal.

Republicans should go to the mat on defunding Planned Parenthood rather than continuing to provide $500 million per year to a “criminal enterprise.” It’s disheartening to see the GOP leadership in both houses begin the discussion by “preemptively surrendering” just because the president has threatened a veto.

Many Republicans have effectively embraced amnesty [for illegal immigrants]. “I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty and, in fact, who helped lead the fight to stop a massive amnesty plan.”

“I’ve known John Roberts for 20 years, he’s an amazingly talented lawyer, but, yes, it was a mistake when he was appointed to the Supreme Court” by President George W. Bush. [At the time, Cruz wrote an article in the National Review supporting the nomination.] *** “I give you my word, if I’m elected president, every single Supreme Court justice will faithfully follow the law and will not act like philosopher kings, imposing their liberal policies on millions of Americans who need to be trusted to govern ourselves.”

Re the 2nd right to bear arms, I am honored to have been endorsed by Gun Owners of America as the strongest supporter of the Second Amendment on this stage today.

We’ll pass a simple flat tax and abolish the IRS . . . repeal every word of Obamacare . . . kill the terrorists . . . defend the Constitution, every single word of it.

RAND PAUL – I’m an eye surgeon from Bowling Green, Kentucky. My wife, Kelly, and I have been married for nearly 25 years, and I spend my days defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I think there’s nothing more important than understanding that the Constitution restrains government, not the people.

Should we continue to talk with Iran? Yes. And the same goes for Russia and China, although that doesn’t mean we should give them a pass.

Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, the result has been chaos and the rise of radical Islam. We need to think before we act, and be aware that such interventions are likely to backfire. I opposed the invasion of Iraq, which we’re still paying for, and I said no to toppling Assad because that would leave ISIS in charge of Syria.

Our companies, and our jobs are being chased overseas by a 70,000 page tax code, so, that’s why I’ve chosen to get rid of the whole thing, and have one single rate, 14 and a-half percent for everybody, business, and for corporate income, and personal income. My flat tax plan would get rid of the payroll tax, so the working class would get a tax break.

JOHN KASICH - [I’m] the Governor of Ohio. Emma, and Reese, my children, and Karen, love ‘ya girls. Thanks for watching tonight. By the way, I think I actually flew on this plane with Ronald Reagan when I was a congressman, and his goals, and mine, really much — are pretty much the same. Lift Americans, unify, give hope, grow America, and restore it is to that great, shining city on a hill. Yes, he was a great one, and I learned much from watching him. The most important thing, hope to Americans, unify, lift everyone in America.

People at home want to know across this country, they want to know what we’re going to do to fix this place, how we’ll balance a budget, how we’re going to create more economic growth, how we’ll pay down the debt. What we’re going to do to strengthen the military. *** They don’t want all this fighting between the candidates.

Although calling the Iranian nuclear pact a bad deal, Kasich effectively accepts it. “If they cheat, we slap the sanctions back on *** if we find out that they may be developing a nuclear weapon, than the military option is on the table. We are stronger when we work with the Western civilization, our friends in Europe . . .”.

Let’s give state governors the ability to defund Planned Parenthood. “But when it comes to closing down the federal government, you gotta be very careful about that.”

I’m the only person on the stage and one of the few people in this country that led the effort as the chief architect of the last time we balanced the federal budget. We also cut taxes. And when I left Washington in 2000, we had a $5 trillion [sic] surplus, and the economy was booming.

MIKE HUCKABEE – I’m delighted to be on this stage with some remarkable fellow Republicans. None of us are a self-professed socialist. None of us on this stage are under investigation by the FBI because we destroyed government records, or because we leaked secrets. I know that there are some in the Wall-Street-to-Washington axis of power who speak of all of us contemptuously. But I’m here to say that I think we are, in fact, the A team. We have some remarkable people, and, in fact, not only are we the A team; we even have our own Mr. T, who doesn’t mind saying about others, “you’re a fool.” And I’m delighted to be here with all of these guys, and would put any of them in an administration that I led.

The president treats the Iranian nuclear deal “like the Magna Carta, but Iranians treat it like it’s toilet paper, and we must, simply, make it very clear that the next president, one of us on this stage, will absolutely not honor that agreement, and will destroy it and will be tough with Iran, because otherwise, we put every person in this world in a very dangerous place.”

We made accommodation to the Fort Hood shooter to let him grow a beard. We made accommodations to the Muslim detainees at Gitmo who killed Americans. Surely we can make an accommodation for Kim Davis, an elected Democrat county clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky, for her faith-based objection to issuing marriage certificates for same sex couples.

I think we ought to get rid of all the taxes on people who produce. Why should we penalize productivity? And it’s why I’m an unabashed supporter of the “fair tax,” which would be a tax on our consumption, rather than a tax on our productivity.

Would Huckabee have a litmus test when it came to appointing Supreme Court nominees? Yes, and there would be several questions: Do you think an unborn child is a human being, do you truly believe in religious liberty, do you think there is an individual right to bear arms, do you believe in the 5th and 14th Amendments, and will you follow the 10th Amendment to prevent federal meddling in state decisions?

In the interest of controlling healthcare costs, “the next president ought to declare a war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, because those are the four things that are causing the greatest level of cost.”

SCOTT WALKER – I want to thank Mrs. Reagan and the Reagan Library for hosting us. You see, in my lifetime, the greatest president was a governor from California. Ronald Reagan knew how to go big, and go bold. He understood the essence of moving this country forward, and that’s what I did when I took on the status quo in my state, and the Washington based special interests. Now, more than ever, America needs a leader who will go big and bold again. Someone who’s been tested. I’m ready to be that leader.

Wisconsin defunded Planned Parenthood and so did a lot of other states, but it seems like we should be able to do this nationally as well. Forget the 60-vote rule, the Constitution doesn’t require 60 votes. Pass [a bill to defund Planned Parenthood] with 51 votes, put it on the desk of the president and “actually make a point.”

Raising the minimum wage would be pointless. The challenge is to create jobs, not destroy them, and this can best be done by reforming the tax code, cutting tax rates, building an education system that gives people the skills and education they need, having an all of the above energy policy, and repealing Obamacare.

In the end, it comes down to leadership and I would ask the American people to look at who’s been tested. When there were 100,000 protesters in my capital [Madison, WI], I didn’t back down, when they issued death threats against me and threats against my family, I didn’t back down, when they tried to recall me, I didn’t back down, and when they made me one of their number-one targets last year, I didn’t back down.

C. Concluding observations - The candidates differed markedly in tone and substance on some major issues, and it would be hard to agree with any of them about everything they said. To borrow a line from Fox News, “we report, you decide.”

Mark your calendars for: (a) The first Democratic candidate debate in Nevada on October 13, which will be hosted by CNN (Anderson Cooper); and (b) the third GOP candidate debate in Colorado on October 28, hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder and CNBC, which will reportedly be focused (about time!) on economic issues.
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