In the fourth televised GOP primary debate last night, eight Republican candidates for president laid out their positions as they sparred over taxes, immigration, government spending, and to a lesser extent, foreign policy.
They clashed heatedly over what it means to be a conservative and the immigration issue, particularly amnesty.
The debate venue was the same storied Milwaukee auditorium where Theodore Roosevelt gave a 90-minute speech Oct. 14, 1912 after being shot in the chest by a deranged saloonkeeper. Roosevelt, who served as president from September 1901 to March 1909 as a Republican, was campaigning at the time for president on the Progressive Party ticket.
Last night's debate was -- fortunately -- less eventful.
It was also the best, most business-like of the four GOP primary debates so far.
It stood in stark contrast to the televised firing squad 10 Republican contenders faced on CNBC on Oct. 28. That was the debacle of a debate in which moderators acted like prosecutors cross-examining hostile witnesses and obnoxiously playing candidates off against each other.
Unlike left-wing CNBC charlatan John Harwood, the moderators of Fox Business Network last night recognized it was their job to elicit answers and facilitate constructive conversations, not oversee gladiatorial combat. FBN anchors Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto, along with Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker, were well-behaved, reasonable, and professional. (The main debate transcript is available here.)
One of the evening's more interesting multi-debater exchanges came when Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) trolled Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) over foreign policy and child tax credits.
After Baker told Rubio his tax plan includes a significant expansion of child tax credits that would raise the incomes of struggling parents, the moderator asked if there was "a risk you’re just adding another expensive entitlement program to an already over-burdened federal budget?"
Rubio stressed the paramountcy of the family in American society and said he was "proud" of his child tax credit increase, which he said was part of a "pro-family tax plan" that would strengthen the family unit.
Paul interjected, perhaps thinking of himself an an ideological gatekeeper like William F. Buckley Jr., saying,
We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative. Is it fiscally conservative to have a trillion-dollar expenditure? We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money. He’s talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment ... Add that to Marco’s plan for $1 trillion in new military spending, and you get something that looks, to me, not very conservative.
Rubio shot back, saying "this is their money" that Americans have paid. Using an argument often employed by left-wingers, the senator said his program would allow parents to "invest" in their children, "in the future of America and strengthening your family ... [the] most important institution in society."
Paul replied, "Nevertheless, it’s not very conservative, Marco."
Rubio said he wanted to rebuild the military and slammed Paul as "a committed isolationist." Rubio added, "I’m not. I believe the world is a stronger and a better place, when the United States is the strongest military power in the world."
Paul continued taunting Rubio, saying "Yeah, but, Marco! Marco! How is it conservative, how is it conservative to add a trillion-dollar expenditure for the federal government that you’re not paying for?"
Because Americans are growing increasingly anxious about Islamic terrorism, now might be a politically inopportune moment to push for military spending cuts. It was just Oct. 31 when an Islamic State affiliate apparently downed a Russian-operated Airbus A321M in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula Oct. 31, killing all 224 souls onboard.
Rubio said there won't be an economy "if we’re not safe," adding that right now "radical jihadists in the Middle East [are] beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran [is] trying to get a nuclear weapon, the Chinese [are] taking over the South China Sea."
"The world," Rubio said, "is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world."
Paul concluded his voir dire, retorting,
This is the most important thing we’re going to talk about tonight. Can you be a conservative, and be liberal on military spending? Can you be for unlimited military spending, and say, Oh, I’m going to make the country safe? No, we need a safe country, but, you know, we spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined? I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt.
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Carly Fiorina jumped into the discussion.
"We have to defend this nation," Cruz said. "You think defending this nation is expensive, try not defending it. That’s a lot more expensive."
Cruz, who claimed his 10 percent flat tax proposal would create 4.9 million jobs, said he would eliminate 25 programs, such as sugar subsidies, to free up funding for defense programs. "That sort of corporate welfare is why we’re bankrupting our kids, and grandkids." Cruz also vowed to abolish the IRS, along with the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Fiorina pushed zero-based budgeting combined with tax reforms such as reducing the tax code to three pages as a way of bringing federal expenditures under control. "Unless we can examine, and cut, and move, every single dollar of discretionary spending in the federal government, we cannot reform taxes and reduce spending at the same time."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who continues trailing badly in the polls, was noticeably more forceful on stage than in previous debates. To avoid another financial crisis, "what we ought to do is raise the capital requirements so banks aren’t too big to fail."
The Dodd-Frank financial services legislation "has actually done the opposite, totally the opposite, where banks now have higher concentration of risk in assets and the capital requirements aren’t high enough," Bush said, adding that Democrat candidate "Hillary Clinton wants to double down on that."
Rubio said he agreed with Bush but went further. Under Dodd-Frank,
big banks get bigger, the small banks struggle to lend or even exist ... [and] We have actually created a category of systemically important institutions, and these banks go around bragging about it. You know what they say to people with a wink and a nod? We are so big, we are so important that if we get in trouble, the government has to bail us out. This is an outrage. We need to repeal Dodd-Frank as soon as possible.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich scolded Wall Street for "too much greed" and said it needs "a good ethics lesson." He also outlined a plan to cut taxes, including individual income tax rates and business tax rates, which he said was "the only plan of anybody standing on this stage to get us to a balanced budget by the end of a second term."
While Ben Carson spent much of the debate defending himself against claims that details of his biography are false, the candidates clashed over the immigration amnesty issue.
Cruz cautioned about the danger of going soft on the issue. "The Democrats are laughing — because if Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose."
Kasich defended amnesty.
But if people think that we are going to ship 11 million people who are law-abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up at their house and ship them out of Mexico — to Mexico, think about the families. Think about the children ... come on, folks. We all know you can’t pick them up and ship them across, back across the border. It’s a silly argument. It is not an adult argument. It makes no sense.
Donald Trump hailed a federal appeals court ruling this week that, in one moderator's words, "just dealt a blow to the Obama administration’s plan to prevent the deportation of 5 million people living in this country illegally."
"I was so happy yesterday when I saw that decision come down. That was an unbelievable decision. And we don’t have enough of those decisions coming down."
Trump said "we have to stop illegal immigration. It’s hurting us economically. It’s hurting us from every standpoint. It’s causing tremendous difficulty with respect to drugs and what that does to many of our inner cities in particular ... But we have no choice if we’re going to run our country properly and if we’re going to be a country."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were relegated to the undercard debate that took place earlier in the evening after they failed to garner an average of at least 2.5 percent in four recent polls selected by Fox Business. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and former New York Gov. George Pataki failed to meet the 1 percent threshold and were excluded from the undercard debate altogether, but Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.) met the cutoff and participated alongside Christie and Huckabee. (The undercard debate transcript is available here.)
The fifth GOP debate is scheduled for Dec. 15 in Las Vegas, hosted by CNN and Salem Radio. The next Democratic candidates' debate is set for Nov. 14 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. It is co-sponsored by CBS News, TV station KKCI, and the Des Moines Register.