Note: I had a two hour power cut about half-way through this debate, and I won’t have time to finish this tomorrow morning, so this report only covers the first hour of the debate.
(See here for my take on the Undercard Debate.)
The main debate was held at 9pm ET (3pm Friday NZT) and was moderated by Fox News hosts/journalists Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace. Like the Undercard Debate, it was held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, the state capital of Iowa . The centre podium, by dint of his being #1 in the polls, was supposed to be occupied by Donald Trump, but in a fit of pique he decided not to show.
The first question in the debate was to Ted Cruz about Donald Trump. Before he got to that, he gave one of the smarmiest answers to suck up to Iowa voters I’ve ever heard in my life. Then he mocked Trump by giving examples of the nasty things he thought Trump would have said in the debate. Next, he tried to present himself as arguing with Trump only on the issues, and never about personalities. It was a relief to move onto another candidate.
Marco Rubio‘s first question was about his contention that he can unite all the factions within the GOP. Rubio turned that around, saying the campaign was about Obama, and how he’d ruined America and many of the things that made the country special, then moved onto attacking Hillary Clinton. He didn’t answer how he would unite the country, just restated that he would.
Jeb Bush was questioned on the tactic of the so-called establishment candidates attacking each other and splitting that vote, thereby handing the election to an anti-establishment candidate. He pointed out that the process had only just started, and to give it time to play out. He immediately came across better and more relaxed than he has before, making jokes about Trump’s absence. Also, he immediately addressed the other elephants in the room – his father and brother. He dealt with that well, and managed to get an attack on Clinton that was both effective and humourous when he said he’d released 34 years of his tax records, but you need a sub-poena just to get Clinton’s e-mails.
Chris Christie‘s first chance came with a question addressing his history of leading a blue state, and whether compromise or standing on conservative principles was better. He did really well, pointing out the difference the experience of being a governor makes, and having the practical experience of actually getting things done and working with others. He got in a dig at Obama too, which he always needs to do to separate himself – the Obama/Christie photo, ridiculously, haunts his candidacy. To a sensible voter it’s a sign he’s willing to do what it takes to help his state – only the ignorant see it as a negative in my opinion.
Rand Paul was kicked in the teeth up front – told of a video in which Cruz is recognized as the new leader of the libertarians, and how his father, former senator Ron Paul, has said it’s a realistic scenario that Trump will be the party’s nominee. He was asked if he “made a mistake” by not “more fully embracing” his father’s political legacy. The smile Paul wore throughout Baier’s question was his frequent supercilious one, where it seems like he feels sorry for the speaker because they’re so stupid. He was effusive in his praise of his father – too effusive to be entirely convincing. He managed to make some valid points against Cruz though. The collection of surveillance information is another issue Cruz has flip-flopped on – he’s spoken both for it and against it, depending on the audience, but didn’t turn up to vote against it. Cruz’s response was just rhetoric, praising Ron Paul, and even managing to get the first of his always frequent mentions of Reagan in. Marco Rubio inserted himself into the conversation too by saying he thought surveillance was necessary to keep the country safe, which got a lot of applause.
John Kasich has been calling himself the “inside/outside guy” in order to disassociate himself from the establishment he is part of, and was asked what he had to say to those who consider practical government experience a liability. He talked at length of his leadership and management skills, and of the achievements made in his state because of them, such as, he says, 400,000 news jobs since he became governor. He says he’s not an establishment guy though because he works with everybody.
Ben Carson was asked how he expected to run a country with no experience in government at all. Carson focused on his reputation for honesty, and the fact that as a surgeon he has frequently had to make life and death decisions. He offered his experience of putting teams together to solve complex problems and thinking out of the box as a good strategy to solve the countries problems. It was a good answer that he presented really well. The problem, of course, is that to him thinking out of the box means the pyramids are ancient grain silos and evolution is a lie.
The moderators then moved to ask all the candidates about what Chris Wallace called “foreign terror.” He noted that according to Google “ISIS” is the most searched foreign policy topic over the past year at 80%, followed by Refugees (13%), National Security (4%), Iran Nuclear Program (2%), and China-US Relations (1%).
Wallace went to Cruz first, asking him about his tough-talking statements such as carpet-bombing DAESH into oblivion and making the sand glow at night. Wallace pointed out that Cruz’s senate record was quite different, such as opposing giving Obama authority to enforce his “red-line” in Syria, and he’s voted against the Defense Authorization Act ever since he was elected. Cruz didn’t answer the question, but instead turned in into an attack on both Wallace and Obama. He said Wallace “claimed” it was tough-talk, but that it was actually “a different military strategy than we have seen from Obama.” He made a point of saying he made no apologies for his plan. Like several GOP candidates he has the opinions that USians must be considered people from the time of conception to protect the innocent, but civilians in war zones are fair game. He insists Obama has “dramatically degraded” the military. He gives counts of things like planes and ships to make his point. (Perhaps he should count drones.) He wants the rules of combat rewritten, presumably to allow the murder of civilians.
Rubio’s rhetoric on this subject is good, whether you agree with him or not. He clearly has a superior knowledge and understanding of the situation. He talks of defeating DAESH, rather than destroying them, which shows that he probably has a more balanced and sensible opinion of how to handle them, whatever he says on the campaign trail. However, he also talked of how small the US army, navy and air force are. He failed to mention that’s because the military is transitioning to other technologies, and still has a budget bigger than the next eight countries combined. It’s about fighting smarter, which the US military themselves will tell anyone who cares to listen. Rubio, though, is another one who thinks the US is fighting under rules of engagement that are too strict.
And Cruz got in his next Reagan mention here, giving a history lesson which was completely irrelevant, but saying he would do what Reagan did. I wonder if he means arming the Iranians in an illegal deal?
Chris Wallace tried to make Christie criticize Cruz and Rubio for their inexperience next, asking whether he thought they were ready to lead the country, especially as Christie has previously criticized Cruz for blocking the surveillance legislation. Christie refused to do that, and instead used the opportunity to criticize Clinton. He then referred to his own experience in such situations, especially 9/11, and said that was what the country needed.
Wallace tried to get Bush to attack Cruz and Rubio also, noting he had previously talked of other candidates’ unrealistic ideas when fighting terrorism. He then attacked Bush because as “your brother got us into two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are still not ended, (Wallace got some boos for that, and fair enough – he’s not his brother’s keeper) what lessons have you learned from your brother’s mistakes?” Bush did well here. He talked of how unpopular Obama’s red-line was at the time, and no-one wanted him to go ahead, and reverted to talking of his own plan to defeat DAESH. His plan has been well thought out, and he’s had it for a while, but it does include things that I consider are ill-advised such as a no-fly zone in Syria.
Cruz then showed his petty side, which had to come out. He complained about the previous questions which he said had been all about the others attacking him. He was right, but pointing it out showed he lacked the dignity to rise above it, as a leader should.
Rand Paul then shared his “wisdom” – we should be supporting Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Apparently anything else is a “really bad idea.”
We got a wee wobbly from Kasich here too, because he didn’t feel like he was getting enough attention. When will these guys learn how this looks?
Megyn Kelly challenged Rubio on his view that mosques should be shut down if their members indulge in hateful speech, pointing out that their speech is protected by the First Amendment unless they turn to terror. (Try shutting down even one of the many churches that that spits anti-LGBT venom!) Rubio said, basically, that the problem with Muslims is that they don’t just talk about it, they do it.
Christie came in with a practical, common sense response – if you see something, say something, and let law enforcement make the judgement to a question about profiling. He is against profiling as he sees it as unnecessary. As always, he was also able to bring his response around to an attack on Obama and Clinton.
Carson was asked about the rise of Islamophobia and whether he thought the GOP approach was causing it to rise. He refused to answer that question, then justified Islamophobia by reference to an obscure Texas Islamic organisation. It was simply revolting.
Christie wants to defund Planned Parenthood. Why? Abortions, of course.
Cruz will repeal Obamacare because it’s been a “disaster.” According to his (already proven bad judgement and facts) it’s caused millions of USians to lose their jobs or be forced into part-time work. He went on about reforms to the health insurance market he’d make, which are good, but the question he was asked was what he’d do about the millions who now rely on Obamacare. He didn’t answer that. Every USian with an ongoing health condition who has never before been able to get insurance because of the brutal, uncaring regime that operates in that country better hope that the Republicans don’t get elected. Their lives won’t be worth living.
Bush doesn’t think the federal government should bail out Puerto Rico, but supports statehood for them once they’ve got their economy sorted out.
Rubio denies climate change, and thinks nothing should be done by the federal government re carbon costs.
(There was another hour of the debate after this, but as I said, the power went out for two hours when I got just a few minutes into the next section of the debate.)
It’s time for Rand Paul at least to drop out of the race. He’s not the worst of the top eight (that “honour” belongs to Cruz), but it must be obvious even to him there’s no path to the nomination for him from here. There’s little hope for Carson either unless there’s an outbreak of peace in the world. At least one of Kasich, Christie and Bush needs to go too. All three would be better presidents than the leading contenders (Trump and Cruz), but unless the majority of GOP caucus voters has an outbreak of rationality, they’re only taking votes from each other.