This was held in Detroit, Michigan this afternoon (8pm Thursday US time, 3pm Friday NZ time) and moderated by Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace. The remaining candidates in polling order are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich.
The Tone of the Campaign
The first set of questions was about the tone of the campaign. Trump faced questions about today’s speech from 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney stating multiple reasons why Trump is a bad candidate and urging Republicans to vote for one of the three other remaining candidates. Rubio was questioned about getting down in the mud in the last few weeks despite vowing he wouldn’t do that, because he’s not like that, and didn’t want to embarrass his children. We were only two minutes in and Trump felt the need to assure everyone watching that there were “no issues” with the size of his penis.
I am not kidding you. It really happened. So much for being presidential.
As usual, Cruz didn’t answer the question he got, though in this case it was a good move on his part. He took the conversation back to policy and outlined some of his main ones. It was a list as scary as a Trump presidency, but at least he didn’t drag his genitalia into the conversation.
This debate is probably more important to John Kasich than any other candidate. His campaign suffers from a lack of media attention – the insults the other three are constantly throwing at each other and the outrageous comments Trump spews grab that media attention. Kasich states that he wants to succeed by being the best candidate, which is less exciting. This debate – two hours with only four candidates – gave him the chance to reach a wide audience. Kasich’s first speaking chance, for example, gave him the opportunity to point out on that national stage that polls show him beating Hillary Clinton head-to-head by a higher margin than any other candidate because of his ability to appeal to centrist voters.
Chris Wallace questioned Trump’s tax policy which the Congressional Budget Office has said will add at least US$10 trillion to the national debt over ten years, even if the economy grows as fast as Trump says it will. (Trump’s growth predictions appear to be based on discredited “trickle-down” economics.) Trump says that US$10 trillion will be made up for in savings from stopping “waste, fraud, and abuse in Washington.” He was asked where specifically he would make those savings. His answer?
- Get rid of the Department of Education and common core, returning all education to the state level.
- Get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form” (whatever that means).
- Every other agency could be cut right down too because of the “tremendous” waste. The only one he specifically named was the Internal Revenue Service.
Chris Wallace pointed out that the numbers don’t add up – that removing total federal spending at the Education Department (US$78 billion per annum) and EPA (US$8 billion per annum) would hardly make a dent in that US$10 trillion. Trump tried to say that US$300 billion would be saved if the government just bid properly on pharmaceutical contracts. Wallace was ready for that – he pointed out that the total spending on drugs for Medicare was only US$78 per annum. It is impossible to save US$300 billion in that way. Trump then tried to shift to saying he meant saving through negotiation on all contracts.
Chris Wallace then moved onto Ted Cruz and his ludicrous claim that he’s going to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. He asked who would collect the taxes that Cruz is calling for, and who would oversee the process. He says his tax plan is so simple that everyone will just need to fill in a postcard, which they will forward to the Treasury Department, and much less people will be needed. Given that we have a much simpler tax regime in New Zealand, I accept that it’s possible to reduce the size of the IRS. However, the truth is he’s not going to abolish the IRS, he’s going to make it a part of the Treasury Department. I wish though that Wallace had addressed Cruz’s tax plan in the way he did that of Trump. His flat tax is unfair on the poor, gives even more to the wealthy, and the Congressional Budget Office has calculated that Cruz’s plan will increase the deficit by almost as much as Trump’s.
While Wallace seemed to be doing a good job of exposing Trump, he didn’t do the same to Cruz even when he once again started talking about something completely different, and Rubio was barely questioned about the economy at all. (His tax plan also increases the deficit by trillions, according to the Congressional Budget Office.) He tried to paint Kasich as a liberal wanting to raise the minimum wage (which Kasich has done in his own state) but Kasich’s experience meant he was able to turn that into a state’s rights issue, and denied wanting to increase the federal minimum wage. He then pointed out that he was the only candidate that had worked at both the federal and state level to balance budgets, and knew how to actually do it. He was, he said, part of the budget committee in the Clinton administration when there was a big increase in jobs in the US.
Cruz was questioned first about this, but as usual just said what he wanted and didn’t answer the actual question. Predictably, it was an attack on Trump. Trump, of course, got the opportunity to respond, which just degenerated into, “The last person Hillary wants to face is me.”
Trump was questioned about the off the record interview he supposedly gave to the New York Times earlier this year, in which Buzzfeed is now reporting Trump stated he may not deport all the illegal immigrants, and the length of The Wall with Mexico is negotiable. He admitted that in anything there needs to be “some flexibility” and ability to make a deal. He wouldn’t be pinned down on anything. It was an answer that will make no difference to his core supporters, but it was so unconvincing it will stop any undecided conservatives voting for him if illegal immigration is an important issue for them. He repeated the “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” mantra several times to great cheers, but those people obviously haven’t thought the idea through. Trump will impose some form of tax or tariff (is that legal with NAFTA?) on goods being imported from Mexico. The goods being imported will increase in price in consequence – who is really paying for the wall? USians of course.
Rubio was questioned on his stance when he was a member of the Gang of Eight which is not a popular one with a majority in the GOP as it meant, among other things, an eventual path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He explained his change in position, but his answer was too wonky. I suspect the eyes of many simply glazed over. It was an answer that didn’t resonate either – there were a few boos.
Kelly questioned Cruz on worker visas next. He used to be in favour of a five-fold increase; now he wants a six-month moratorium on all worker visas while the programme is investigated. It’s a statement that plays well to angry voters, but is completely ridiculous and he know perfectly well no-one would ever agree to it, just like his “abolish the IRS” plan. He sounds statesmanlike when he says these things though, and that seems to attract supporters. He always manages to get in an attack on Trump too, which gives Trump the chance to talk.
Rubio made a couple of excellent attacks on Trump here though – he explained that 300 USians had applied for seventeen jobs as waiters at one of his clubs, but all were deemed unsuitable. Instead, he employed overseas workers who, under the conditions of their visa, were unable to go and work for someone else if they were offered better wages. Therefore Trump kept his wage costs down and rarely had to replace anybody. Trump justified this by saying everyone else did it too. He had also used that argument he earlier in the debate when the issue of Trump clothing being made overseas came up.
Rubio and Kasich both have a pretty good knowledge of foreign affairs and that served them well in this area. They were able to show they have a command of the subject. However, it is concerning that both said they want to put troops on the ground in the Middle East.
Trump was questioned about the open letter from Republican foreign affairs experts that they would refuse to follow his orders as Commander-in-Chief if they were illegal. All he would say to that is, “They’ll follow them, believe me.” He went out of his way to show how tough he was, speaking favourably of torture and even reiterating previous comments saying he would torture the families of terrorists. As this potential US President advocated a war crime, loud cheers erupted. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve heard in my life.
At least Ted Cruz spoke against that. However, he also wants to, “… rebuild the military so that it remains the mightiest fighting force on the face of this planet.” This idea that the US military needs rebuilding shows how little facts matter sometimes in political campaigns. To be fair, Cruz isn’t the only one saying it – every other Republican candidate except Rand Paul has said it as well. After criticizing Trump for trying to sound like a “tough guy,” Cruz went into a prepared speech about “every militant understanding” that if they joined DAESH they were “signing their death warrant,” with appropriate Tough Guy hand gestures.
An hour in, and Kasich has hardly had the opportunity to talk because the other three have spent so much time arguing between themselves. At this point though he was got the chance to let the viewers know that Foreign Policy magazine had surveyed their experts and of the Republican candidates, 55% chose him as the best one to manage foreign policy. None of the others remaining in the race had made it out of single digits.
The second hour started with a tape of three occasions when Trump’s had taken opposite positions on an issue within days of each other, with Megyn Kelly pointing out there were many more. He explained that either as needing to be flexible, not having all the information, or that in some other way it wasn’t his fault. The issue of Trump University came up. After he had said several times that 98% of people had said it was great, Kelly pointed out that the report cards that said that were completed with a staff member standing over them and that a third of enrollees had asked for their money back. Further, the class action against Trump University, which has been accepted, involves 5,000 people. Trump then made negative comments about the lead plaintiff; Kelly pointed out that when Trump had filed a counter-suit against that lead plaintiff, it was thrown out of court and Trump was ordered to pay her around US$800,000.
After twenty minutes of arguing between the three leading candidates, Kasich showed he was the adult in the room pointing out that none of what the others were talking about was helping the voters.
Cruz was asked what he would do specifically to bring manufacturing jobs back to places like Detroit. He waxed lyrical about the history of Detroit and insisted that liberal governments had destroyed it. After his three minute spiel was over, Chris Wallace said, “I’ll give you another opportunity to answer my question – what specifically would you do to bring back manufacturing jobs to places like Detroit and train the residents here to do those jobs.” Cruz gave the usual spiel about over-regulation, the EPA, repealing Obamacare, and his flat-tax plan. The trouble is those are the same sort of things that Republicans have been promising for forty years and they’ve never delivered. That’s why their voters are so angry, and that’s why they’re supporting Trump. Also, those things either won’t, or won’t necessarily, increase jobs. He also advocated a 16% tax on all imports – he called that “… allowing Americas to compete on a level playing field.” The man is clueless economically.
Fox News seems to be not only trying to destroy Trump, but to force Kasich out of the race. The next question was about so-called “religious liberty” – at the last debate Kasich said that people shouldn’t be able to refuse to sell to same-sex couples. Baier said that made faith leaders nervous. Kasich handled the question well (although I personally don’t agree with everything he said). He talked about the positive side of faith, and said people needed to show common sense. Basically he said people should just be a bit nicer to each other. He said he opposed same-sex marriage, but he thought people should be respectful of one another. An example he gave was that if you ask someone to photograph your wedding and they don’t feel able to because of their beliefs, find another photographer, don’t sue them. He finished by saying that on the whole no-one should be forced into doing something they don’t want to, but that they also should make more effort to get along.
Cruz was asked whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt. He couldn’t even answer that one, even though we all know what he thinks. He said marriage and adoption should be state decisions. He said the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage was “illegitimate and wrong”. He then moved onto religious liberty and used the opportunity to attack Trump, thereby giving him another chance to speak (via right of reply). We got another prepared Cruz sermon: “I will never compromise away your religious liberty,” along with a few examples of court cases he’s fought “defending Christianity.” I was pleased to see that Kasich’s more conciliatory answer got a lot more applause than Cruz’s.
Trump was actually pretty subdued though – all he said was that the decision on same-sex marriage should have been left to the states. In front of a Republican audience, that’s an answer you can rarely go wrong with.
I do not want to write about this section of the debate. I do not understand the sick attitudes of these people towards guns. It was all a bit revolting.
Then Cruz called Trump a liar, and Trump called Cruz a liar. It all degenerated even further from there.
Once again, there was no time left for Kasich to have his say.
Rubio was up first and was well prepared. He had been asked to comment on why Trump wasn’t the best person to lead foreign policy and his answer focused on Trump’s demeanour, exemplified by his earlier answer that if he tells people to do something, they will.
All Trump could say in response was, “I’ve gotten to know [Rubio] and he is not a leader, believe me. He is not a leader. Believe me.” Which, as Rubio himself pointed out, didn’t answer the criticisms. Trump just repeated that “frankly,” they would do as he told them. Then he branched off into building up the military, said they’d get the equipment they wanted, not the equipment Rubio and Cruz would choose because of campaign contributions, and, he said, “I will prove to be a great leader.”
Cruz was asked about the fact that Kim Jong Un has put their nuclear weapons in a state of readiness. He was obviously not ready for that because he spent most of his answer repeating the question and talking about history and what the Democrats have done wrong, not what his response would be. The one new thing I heard was that he thinks the US needs space-based missile defence. Whether that is true or not, it’s no help in the current situation.
Kasich was questioned about his “Make Tyranny Great Again” anti-Trump campaign video. Chris Wallace asked Kasich if he thought Trump was “naïve” when it came to Putin. Kasich refused to bite (which got a lot of cheers). Instead he said that the US needed to tell Putin that they were going to arm the Ukrainians and in relation to the region, to reiterate that an attack on a NATO member was an attack on the US. Further, he said they should tell China they “don’t own the South China Sea, stop hacking us, and we’re going to beef up our cyber command” so greater retaliatory action can be taken. He then moved on to the Middle East where he talked about a stronger posture and bringing allies closer.
Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich all pledged to support Trump if he’s the Republican nominee. Trump pledged to support whoever is the Republican nominee.
At the end, Trump shook Kasich’s hand. Rubio then offered Trump his hand – Trump pretended to start to take it, then pulled away. There was not even an attempt between Cruz and Trump. The others all shook hands.