The Sixth GOP Debate: Seven Candidates Get Down to Dollars and Cents
9:04 p.m.: During the final stretch of the sixth GOP faceoff, the candidates on Thursday navigated the tricky task of talking about fiscal policy and big business in a way that didn’t alienate either corporatist supporters or Middle America. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Chris Christie tackled the issues of tax reform, entitlements (most candidates besides Christie dodged that topic, which Christie noted), how to keep corporations from moving their operations overseas and how to best negotiate with China.
Cruz made a bold and improbable suggestion that he would “abolish the IRS” in addition to instating his flat-tax plan.
Trump declared that he loved China and its people but suggested that the Chinese are laughing at the current administration’s leadership in its overseas dealings. Playing up his billionaire CEO persona, Trump, with Fox Business Network moderator Maria Bartiromo in agreement, declared, “Corporate inversion is one of the biggest problems we have. … Corporations by the thousands are thinking of leaving the country.” Later, when Bartiromo asked what he would do with his vaunted business if elected next November, Trump spoke to his three adult children seated in the audience, telling them, “Run it, kids.”
Ben Carson, who seemed bemused and participated more in the discussion than in the last debate, said his team had proposed “a flat tax for everyone—no exemptions, no deductions, no shelters.” He paid tribute to his mother, who he said “knew how to stretch a dollar,” in suggesting that Americans “stop spending so much money.”
Other noteworthy comments and moments in the debate’s last minutes included Marco Rubio’s sword-rattling statement about Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower: “If I am president and we get our hands on him, he is going to stand trial.” Trump took another shot at his frequent target, Jeb Bush, calling him a “weak person.” Bush slammed Trump’s repeated vow to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., calling the plan “unhinged.”
Also, the mention of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is rumored to be high on the list of potential vice presidents, drew an enthusiastic response from a crowd given to spontaneous outbursts—an audience that booed Trump’s attacks on other candidates and at points chanted “We want Rand!” in reference to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s absence from the debate.
The candidates came together on the subjects of supporting law enforcement. Trump called the police “the most mistreated people in this country” in a coded dismissal of the discussion about police violence foregrounded by groups like the Black Lives Matter movement. They rallied behind big corporations, agreed that the GOP is the true party of the people and collectively painted President Obama as an arrogant leader who has taken the country dangerously off course. They were united in making the country seem vulnerable to hostile forces—Islamic State, domestic tensions, gun control advocates, socialists and, last but not least, Hillary Clinton.
On that note, the Benghazi-themed movie “13 Hours” was mentioned by more than one presidential candidate at Thursday night’s event, forging a rare alliance between Hollywood and the GOP. * * *
7:32 p.m.: Knowing their audience well, moderators next steered the conversation to the hot-trigger topic of gun control. Rubio was more than ready to come right out and claim that Obama is more than capable of personally wresting America’s firearms from their rightful owners. To wit: “I’m convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun, he would,” Rubio said.
The Florida junior senator’s argument apparently struck Bartiromo and co-moderator Neil Cavuto as a little extreme, but true to his home state, Rubio stood his ground, sketching out a scenario in which only firearms stood between American families and marauding terrorists.
Also throwing in to prove who was the most pro-gun candidate was Chris Christie, who pointed out that the U.S. Constitution contains a key clue about the importance of the Second Amendment to the nation’s Founding Fathers. “I don’t think the founders made it number two by accident,” he said. “I think they made it second because it’s that important.”
Next, Christie turned on Obama, calling the president “a petulant child” for using executive privilege on the gun control issue. Turning to the camera, Christie spoke directly to Obama: “The American people have rejected your agenda,” he announced, “and we are going to kick your rear end out of the White House this fall!”
Cruz pointed out that he has the National Rifle Association’s support before being asked to defend his recent derisive comment about Trump’s so-called “New York values.” Cruz responded, “I think most people know what New York values are.” When Bartiromo said she is a New Yorker and professed to not understand his meaning, Cruz was ready. “You’re from New York, so you might not,” he said, before associating New York with liberalism and pro-abortion politics. Apparently, Cruz’s camp has given up on the possibility of wooing New York’s GOP voters away from Trump.
Predictably, Trump invoked New Yorkers’ response to 9/11 in his defense of his home turf and declined to respond in kind by slamming Texas values. * * *
6:57 p.m.: The candidates were introduced according to their respective standing in the polls. That meant that Trump came first, followed by Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Christie, Bush and John Kasich. Starting with the opening questions, Bartiromo and Cavuto struck a chummy, we’re-in-this-together tone with the candidates they were tasked with grilling before millions of would-be voters.
For example, Cavuto framed his first query to Kasich in a way that cast Obama as the reason for the state the American economy was in when he assumed office. In another instance, Cavuto referred to the ongoing questions—which Trump was more than ready to further animate—over Cruz’s eligibility to assume the presidency, given that he was born in Canada. “Stop me if you’ve heard this before,” Cavuto joked, referencing a bit of Republican nostalgia from the 2008 election: the “birther” argument against Obama’s claims to U.S. citizenship.
The moderators, however, did mention to Cruz one of the more potentially impactful reports with regard to the Texas senator’s candidacy, this time from The New York Times article about Cruz’s failure to report the help Wall Street (and Goldman Sachs in particular) had given him in funding his Senate campaign in 2012.
Cruz, who had kicked off his performance by adopting a populist tone and declaring “We believe we should be fighting for the working men and women of this country,” admitted that he had made a single “paperwork error” in that situation but needed bigger money than he personally had available to back his bid for office. “Well, Neil, I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening,” Cruz joked, before handily dismissing the Times report as insubstantial and after reminding the audience that the same paper had compared him with a supernatural menace in the horror film “It Follows.”
It soon became clear, despite Rubio’s attempts to bring the discussion around to the state of the country as seen from a Republican standpoint, that the first portion of the debate would be primarily devoted to internal battles among the seven contenders. Cruz and Trump battled over the new “birther” issue—which of them could legitimately claim eligibility to run for America’s highest office—as well as over which would become the other’s pick for vice president.
Meanwhile, Time magazine declared Carly Fiorina the winner of the undercard debate. * * *
4:38 p.m.: Another year, another Republican debate. This time, Sen. Rand Paul was notably absent from the lineup during the undercard round Thursday, at the huddle of GOP presidential hopefuls in South Carolina.
Although being bumped from the main stage at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center apparently didn’t work for Paul, the three other candidates — Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — turned up for the occasion to woo voters with talk of reforming tax codes, immigration, income inequality, gun control, foreign policy and that perennial conservative favorite, family values.
Oh, and also how to train taxpayers using methods borrowed from child rearing and dog training. That last bit came courtesy of Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who gave tax talk a down-home feel with an innovative approach involving “rewarding behavior you want more of and punishing behavior you want less of” when drawing up taxation schemes on the federal level.
Santorum was bombastic about the possibility of reversing Obama’s recent nuclear agreement with Iran, regaling viewers with fearful notions of attacks from Tehran on our “electric grid.” His delivery style became even more forceful when he denounced the scourge of political correctness, another popular right-wing theme played upon this election season. Santorum also made a pitch for restoring the ideal of the nuclear family as a way of solving societal problems and reminded Americans about that time he took Hillary Clinton on, and won, in a contest over partial-birth abortion.
Fiorina, for her part, clearly had given her writing team explicit orders to tailor her comments for Twitter, and she delivered several one-liners with obvious gusto. Right out of the gates, she had it in for Democratic heavyweight Clinton, zinging her left-leaning counterpart by remarking, “I actually enjoy spending time with my husband.”
Of Clinton’s sticky email scandal, Fiorina had this to say: “Mrs. Clinton, you actually cannot wipe a server with a towel.” The former Hewlett-Packard CEO also took a swipe at Republican front-runner Donald Trump, characterizing his vocal enthusiasm for Russian President Vladimir Putin as the stuff of “bromance.” In her closing remarks, she entreated the audience to help keep her in the race so she might one day face off with Clinton. “You would pay to see that fight — and that’s ’cause you know that I would win.”
Huckabee also wanted people to know he had fought the Clinton machine. (If any of the undercard group got the memo about Bernie Sanders gaining on Clinton in the polls, they didn’t show it.) He blasted President Obama’s recent moves on gun control, calling them “unconstitutional and completely insane.” “I promise you I’ve been to more gun shows than President Obama,” Huckabee began, encountering absolutely no argument there. “I’ve purchased guns, and I can assure you that it is much more difficult to purchase a firearm than it is to purchase the ingredients of a salad at the supermarket.” He also denounced the entire European Union while he was at it, calling the coalition an outright failure.
When it came to income inequality, the candidates reached for oblique connections to make the GOP look like the party of the common people. Fiorina deflected the conversation to focus on how Republicans are against big government, while Santorum also pulled another thread, in this case about immigration, into the conversation. “We need to be the party that stands for the American worker,” he said, calling up the economic argument that focuses on foreigners taking over American jobs.
The trio then made way for the main act, featuring seven debaters in this go-round: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
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