GOP Debate: An Embarrassing Display

There is an actual transcript of last night’s Republican debate, so I guess we should take a look at it. The host was Fox Business News and the topic was supposed to be the economy. As the poll leader, Trump commanded center stage and fielded the first question from moderator Neil Cavuto. Cavuto noted that there were picketers outside the venue and in other locations throughout the country who were demanding a $15 minimum wage. Did Trump support this?

Now, the optimal rate for the minimum wage is certainly open to debate, presuming you support any minimum at all. It wasn’t a shock that Trump argued against fifteen dollars (the liberal voters of Portland, Maine just rejected a $15 ballot measure), but it wasn’t exactly politically astute to get caught on tape saying that “the wages are too high” in this country. I don’t know too many voters who think that they’re overcompensated for their work. What Trump essentially argued is that we can’t compete with foreign labor if we pay our workers something approximating $30,000 a year. Maybe you agree with that or maybe you don’t, but it was jarring to listen to Trump argue that he’d make America great by making sure that people don’t get paid too much.

When Ben Carson was asked to respond, he immediately broke out the wrong statistic for black unemployment and argued that we shouldn’t make people “dependent” by paying them a decent amount for their labor. And, no, that does not make sense.

Rubio followed by saying that the big problem in this country is that people don’t get paid enough but we can’t pay them more or they’ll just be replaced by robots. His big solution was to encourage people to forego their majors in philosophy and instead pursue a more lucrative career in welding. The audience seemed to especially enjoy this policy prescription.

At this point, Kasich was asked to explain how he would tackle the national debt and proceeded to try to take sole credit for briefly balancing the federal budget at the height of the dot.com boom. He admonished his competitors on the stage for offering pie-in-the-sky tax plans and then asserted that he could lower everyone’s taxes, including businesses, and get the magic growth ponies and rainbows to balance the budget within eight years. If you doubt this, just go to his website and you’ll see.

When it was Ted Cruz’s turn, he quickly explained that his 10% flat tax would create 4.9 million jobs within a decade. When Kasich tried to interject that this was lunacy, he was cut off and Jeb was asked (seriously) what he’d do about the 40% of Americans who are unemployed and have given up on looking for work.

For some reason, Jeb didn’t balk at this ludicrous statistic. Instead, he offered his own, falsely claiming that more small businesses are closing than opening in this country.

And so we were off, with it being established that the moderators couldn’t be trusted any more than the candidates to offer a reality-based picture of the world.

From there, we would experience many fresh examples of the wondrous uses of the non-sequitur. The following came in an exchange between Carly Fiorina and moderator Gerard Baker:

BAKER: Ms. Fiorina, while you’ve all pointed out how weak the current recovery has been and how disappointing by any historical standards, in the general election, the Democrats will inevitably ask you and voters to compare the recent president’s jobs performance.

Now, in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?

FIORINA: Well, first of all, I must say as I think about that question, I think about a woman I met the other day. I would guess she was 40 years old. She had several children. And she said to me, you know, Carly, I go to bed every night afraid for my children’s future. And that really struck me. This is America. A mother is going to bed afraid for her children’s future…

Hopefully, you can see how this was responsive to the question, because I can’t.

I could go on and critique the entire debate, but the whole thing was basically no different from what I’ve already described. The one thing I would like to highlight though is how Trump responded to Kasich’s charge that it would be impractical and inhumane to deport 11 million people. Trump said that it could be done and had been done under President Eisenhower’s leadership.

TRUMP: All I can say is, you’re lucky in Ohio that you struck oil. That is for one thing.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. “I like Ike,” right? The expression. “I like Ike.” Moved a 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back.

Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back.

(LAUGHTER)

Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier. They moved a 1.5 million out. We have no choice. We have no choice.

This was a reference to Operation Wetback. And Trump’s description was fairly accurate except that he failed to mention that it was instigated largely at the insistence of the Mexican government and that it didn’t work and that it was a humanitarian disaster. It also gave us the pejorative “wetback” which is hardly in favor today, and with which the GOP most definitely does not want to be associated.

Despite the incredibly vapid and depressing and basically delusional display put on last night by Fox Business News and the participating candidates, there was some valuable information. It came primarily from disagreements among the candidates about military spending and foreign policy. Jeb Bush, for example, was absolutely horrified to hear Trump argue that he’d welcome Russian intervention in Syria and that the Germans should man up and deal with Ukraine on their own. Cruz and Rubio were indignant that Rand Paul suggested that they couldn’t be conservative or fiscally responsible if they weren’t serious about drastically reducing military spending. There was also an interesting disagreement on trade between Trump on one side and Kasich and Bush on the other.

But noting some genuine philosophical fissures in the Republican façade was about the only enjoyment or genuine education an informed person could get out of last night’s debate.

On the whole, it was an embarrassment for everyone involved, and for our country.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.