Yesterday was the 174th Republican primary debate (or so it seemed though it was just the 6th) and going into the expectations were clear. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz would slug it out for primacy among the anti-party establishment wing, with Trump issuing his patented passive-aggressive attacks along the lines of “Ted Cruz is a very nice guy and I like him a lot but he really needs to clear up doubts about his citizenship by going to the courts and getting a ruling.” How Cruz would respond was the main interest.
Meanwhile on the pro-establishment side, it was expected that Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich would go gunning for Marco Rubio in order to dethrone him and seize the lead in the establishment track and hope to come in second in New Hampshire.
Ben Carson would be left alone to do his own weird thing, probably whine a bit about how no one is asking him questions and maybe taking a nap from time to time.
And that was pretty much how it played out, except that Cruz and Rubio got into a heated exchange and it was only Christie of the establishment wing who went after Rubio, with Bush and Kasich refraining.
These debates are becoming marathons. After two hours, I was tired of the whole thing and yet it went on for another 30 minutes. It seemed like the moderators had a set of questions and that they were determined to get through them all however long it took. These debates would take about an hour less if they gave each candidate at the beginning a ‘two-minute hate’ slot where each of them could say how feckless, craven, incompetent, and possibly treasonous Barack Obama’s presidency had been, how he was weak and had wrecked the US economy, lost the respect of the world, coddled terrorists, while at the same time acting like a dictator, using the recent Iranian incident involving the sailors as an example of how weak he had made the US but that they would show the world who’s the boss. They could also say how Clinton would make it even worse by appointing Supreme Court judges whose first order of business would be to gut the Second Amendment and take away everyone’s guns, provided that she was not put in jail by the feds.
That way we would have been spared by this kind of dreary preamble that was provided by each candidate to pretty much any question, irrespective of what it was about.
A recurring theme of the evening was that how they all, unlike Obama, would rebuild the military to show strength and resolve, destroy ISIS by unleashing that strength, cut taxes on individuals and corporations, and yet have enough money to pay for the military upgrade, fix the infrastructure, and balance the budget. They were vague on the details of how all this would work but I suspect that fairies are involved.
Jeb Bush and John Kasich tried to act like the adults in the room while also wanting to talk as tough as the others. Cruz was pummeled by Trump and Rubio. Marco Rubio came off as shrill. He increasingly reminds of those fast-talking TV pitchmen who try to hide the shadiness of their product by rapid-fire speech. At one point he even said that Clinton was unqualified to be president , which was a bit rich from someone with such a thin resume. Christie was his usual blustery self and slapped down Rubio.
All in all, I thought it was a good night for Trump, a bad night for Cruz and Rubio, while Bush, Kasich and Christie did not help or hurt their cause.
Carson was Carson. His big moment was when, in response to a question about how he would deal with ISIS, he raised the specter that the US might be hit simultaneously with an electromagnetic pulse that shut down the electric grid, a cyber-attack, and a nuclear attack, though by whom he did not specify. His solution is to get experts together to devise a solution, ask the military what they need, and give it to them. Brilliant!
Carson also said that if the next president is a Democrat who can appoint 2 or 3 Supreme Court judges, the country would be destroyed. He was asked whether Bill Clinton’s indiscretions are a fair topic and whether Hillary is an enabler. In response he asked whether we have lost all standards and principles because everyone is fighting with each other. This did not come from our Judeo-Christian values but the good people are getting beaten up by secular progressives. We need to unite and defeat the godless. On ISIS, he said that we need to give the military what they need to destroy the caliphate, take the oil away from them, attack their command and control centers, send special ops forces against them in addition to bombing the hell out of them. It is so simple. I wonder why no one else has thought of it. Carson also talked about his mother’s frugality and that the problem is not evil rich people but evil government.
Christie, after blustering about how tough he would be, said would use this military force when necessary. How clever!
Cruz was asked about his loan of half a million dollars without reporting it to the FEC. Cruz responded by attacking the New York Times that broke the story as having a liberal agenda and that published what he called a ‘hit piece’. He said that it was a filing error.
Cruz was asked about his citizenship eligibility. Crux tried to joke his way out of it and said that Trump is doing this because his polls are declining. Trump said that the polls actually show him winning in Iowa as well. Crowd boos. He said that a lawsuit would come if Cruz wins because many scholars have raised doubts about his eligibility and Cruz needs to get a declaratory judgment so that there is certainty. There was a lot of back and forth between the two before Rubio interjected with some Obama bashing.
Rubio was asked about his harsh attacks on Christie. Rubio said that Christie supports gun control and common core and Planned Parenthood and many other things that Obama supports. Christie denied supporting Sonia Sotomayor or sending a check to Planned Parenthood and that there is no common core in New Jersey now.
On gun control, they all swore that they were fervent admirers of the second amendment and charged Obama and Clinton with wanting to take away everyone’s guns. Christie was asked about his past where he signed laws that controlled guns in his state. Christie said that it was different because he worked with his legislature and that it is easier now to buy and carry concealed weapons in New Jersey. They all felt that mental health of gunmen was the biggest danger.
Cruz got hammered by Trump when he was asked by what he meant by saying that Trump has ‘New York values’. Cruz said with a smirk that the country knows what it means and it meant socially liberal and pro-abortion. In response, Trump hit him with the 9/11 club and somberly said that the way the New Yorkers responded to that devastation and rebuilt the city shows what they could do, that everyone admired their grit and resilience, and that Cruz’s statement was insulting. Cruz had no response and it was his worst moment of the night.
Bush pandered to Israel by saying he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that even his brother did not do.
Trump was asked about wanting to ban all Muslims from entering. Does he want to rethink? His answer is no. Attacks PC culture. Says he only wants to do it temporarily until we find out what is going on and that we cannot be a stupid country. Bush said that this would destroy any chance of getting Arab allies and called for Trump to reconsider. Trump says that security is the most important issue. He said that the police are the most mistreated people in this country and that prevents them from getting to the bottom of the domestic terrorist threat.
Others are asked if they agreed with Trump on stopping all Muslim immigrants. Kasich said that he only favors a pause of Syrian refugees. Christie also opposes any Syrian refugees but not all Muslims and we need to strengthen NSA and the intelligence agencies so that they can identify terrorists before they enter. Again that is so brilliant that one wonders why it is not being done already. Rubio also wants to know who exactly who is coming before allowing them in. Cruz want to suspend admission for refugees from regions controlled by ISIS or al Qaeda. Carson wants to keep the Syrian refugees in their own country.
Trump was asked about reports that he will impose tariffs on China. This leads to a long back and forth on the effects of tariffs. He wants China to use their leverage over North Korea. He said that China is toying with us and that we have a huge trade deficit and the US should use its power to force them to treat us fairly. Kasich wants to intercept North Korean ships ships and also demands fair trade.
Cruz and Rubio had a big fight over their respective tax plans. Rubio attacks Cruz’s plan as a VAT tax. Cruz says that his tax plan is not a VAT tax and his business tax enables him to cut a lot of other taxes. He says Arthur Laffer (Arthur Laffer!) thinks his plan is the best. Rubio disputes that and this leads to a lot cross talk about tax arcana. Carson smugly said that the Wall Street Journal said that his tax plan is the best.
Rubio said he has changed his position on immigration since the world has changed within the last 24 months with the arrival ISIS. Cruz says that the problem existed long before then and that Rubio is a flip-flopper on immigration. Rubio then lists all of Cruz’s policy reversals. Cruz fights back by accusing Rubio of lying.
At one point the crowd started chanting something and stops the proceedings but I could not decipher it. [UPDATE: Apparently this was a group of Rand Paul supporters shouting “We want Rand!”]
Bush is asked whether he agrees with the Apple CEO Tim Cook that communications should be kept private and not released to the government without a warrant. Bush bashed Cruz and Rubio before bashing Obama and said that he wants to expand NSA’s reach so that they can spy more spy.
Kasich; Talks about his poor background and that is why he stands up for ordinary people.
Bush: Says that his success in Florida shows that he has what it takes to run America.
Christie: Some Obama and Trump bashing. He will fight for the people.
Carson: We need non-traditional politics. Plugs his website.
Rubio: Plugs god. Some Obama and Clinton bashing.
Cruz: Plugs new Benghazi film. Panders to military. Bashes Obama and Clinton and PC.
Trump: Brings up Iranian incident as a sign that we are losers. If he wins, we will win.
God, what a mess.