Contact CU Independent Assistant Opinion Editor Emily McPeak at firstname.lastname@example.org; General Assignment News Editor Andrew Haubner at email@example.com; and Editorial Manager Ellis Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For this round of Republican debate coverage, politics writers Emily McPeak, Andrew Haubner and Ellis Arnold live-commented on the debate as it happened. President Obama’s State of the Union address and Muslim refugees were among the topics discussed, but the main event of this debate was the personal blows traded between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump and Jeb Bush, and other pairs. Our post-debate analysis sections are marked off in bold.
Andrew Haubner: You were right, Ellis. State of the Union to Sen. Ted Cruz is the first question of the debate. Don’t know why these candidates never just say “Barack Obama didn’t rebuild the America, the economy and Fed naturally swung back up.”
The Republican candidates are still denying the effects of the stimulus, even after all this time. For the last few years, it has become common knowledge that the recession would have been much deeper had the stimulus spending not been passed.
AH: Rubio is pretty strong here by going after the lack of care towards the military. But the idea that financially it’s been gutted seems odd. I’ll Google that right now; the Council on Foreign Relations think tank does see consistently lower military spending year-to-year since 2010.
Republicans — Sen. Marco Rubio, Bush and Trump in particular — have argued that the military has been “gutted” under the Obama administration. At best, that claim is disingenuous, and at worse, it’s simply false.
Military spending has indeed dropped over the past five years, but that is partly due to troops being withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. The other reason for the drop is budget sequestration (automatic cuts that occur when Congress fails to pass a budget), which went into effect after the 2013 government shutdown — cuts for which the military has both parties in Congress to blame. It’s also worth pointing out that, as Obama’s State of the Union (almost) correctly noted, the U.S. spends more money on its military than the next seven nations combined.
AH: Cruz going after the media again. The Fox Business moderators set him up for that one. I find it weird that the GOP establishment doesn’t want Trump and Cruz but serves them these softballs.
Ellis Arnold: Yeah, as usual for him — unfortunately for the Times, Cruz is doing a good rhetorical job.
Cruz was lobbed some easy questions this time around and was able to attack the New York Times for its recent reporting that Cruz failed to disclose a Senate campaign loan to the Federal Election Commission in 2012. The moderators allowed Cruz to deride the Times with the usual attacks on the “mainstream media” (which Trump was later able to piggyback on).
Cruz said that the loan was disclosed in a different public filing with the Senate, but as the original Times piece notes, Cruz’s image as a candidate who opposed the influence of big banks may have suffered had he disclosed with the FEC, as he was required to. Cruz did not address that point, and Fox Business’ moderators let him off the hook.
EA: Rubio is coming out noticeably louder than usual — he knows he’s gonna sink or swim tonight.
AH: This is madness. Rubio is not doing himself any favors by continually going after Obama.
Rubio came out with an aggressive tone early on to try to salvage his downticking poll numbers. But as Andrew said, going after Obama is a platitude at this point — it’s nothing special for anyone on that stage to criticize him. What matters is whether he can make the case for being a better candidate than his peers.
Rubio went after Gov. Chris Christie early in the debate, tying him to liberal policies after moderators set them up to quarrel. But Christie expertly volleyed his remarks, calling Rubio out as a hypocrite — back in October’s debate, Rubio accused Bush of only targeting him because his poll numbers were dropping. Rubio was caught in the same trap here, and he refrained from aggressive attacks (aside from later calling out Cruz for flip-flopping) for the rest of the night. And despite the fact that Rubio’s claims were mostly accurate, Christie was able to deny them and wriggle out as the more honest candidate.
EA: What’s interesting is that several candidates have criticized Obama’s State of the Union, yet Carson just went with a “Our strength is in our unity” message.
Predictably, the SOTU was an early target for the candidates, and they came out swinging, with Gov. Chris Christie calling the speech “story time with Barack Obama.” Christie, Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Ben Carson all painted the SOTU address as an inaccurate fantasy in some way. But some of the candidates echoed the same ideas that carried the SOTU.
Christie in particular said that the U.S. needs to talk to its allies, strengthen its alliances and talk to its adversaries. But that’s exactly what the Obama administration has done in negotiating with 12 countries in the (controversial) Trans-Pacific Partnership, in bringing Iran to a compromise on nuclear weapons development and in leading a coalition of 65 countries to fight against ISIS. In a strange move, Ben Carson went on a short rant encouraging unity in America, which was basically the main point of the SOTU.
Rubio made the oft-repeated talking point that Obama has weakened the U.S. on “the global stage.” Bush made a similar remark. But polls show that the world’s opinion of the U.S. has improved since Obama took office, on top of the above foreign policy successes.
Emily McPeak: I agree that Carson just echoed a lot of what Obama was saying in the State of the Union.
AH: Anyone have any idea who is winning this? Leaning toward Cruz right now. Well, after that retort, I’m moving back toward Trump. He just smoked Cruz with that answer.
EA: As irrelevant as Trump’s Manhattan rant is, Cruz kind of put himself in a hole; Trump is doing what Hillary Clinton does, invoking 9/11 to tie himself to a perseverant, tragedy-wrought city.
EM: Trump definitely won that exchange.
In response to Cruz’s negative characterization of Trump as having liberal “New York values,” Trump fired back in what was perhaps the most effective response of the night. Trump invoked New Yorkers’ response in 9/11 to paint New York as a city of positive values, perseverance and humanity — he executed it perfectly, and without responding directly to any of Cruz’s accusations, he effectively shut the book on his argument.
EA: Yeah, it actually seemed genuine. Don’t really know who’s winning at this point. Have you noticed that Fox pulls the bell only on certain candidates?
EM: Probably because Trump and Cruz going at each other is more entertaining. It speaks to the use of debates to gain ratings.
An interesting point about the format of the debate is that Fox only exercised the time-limit bell when there wasn’t a lucrative opportunity for candidates trading controversial blows — Cruz v. Trump (both Cruz and Trump spoke for over two minutes, with no sign of the 90- or 60-second limits outlined at the start) as well as Cruz’s response to the New York Times piece all seemed to go on as long as moderators thought it would be entertaining.
AH: Also, Trump’s gonna get a huge boost out of that police mistreatment comment.
EM: The police comment is ironic because of the recent trials going on regarding police violence.
Back in October, FBI Director James Comey asserted that due to police backlash in Ferguson, there’s been a “chill wind” of anti-police sentiment blowing through law enforcement around the nation, and Comey blames 2015’s rising murder rates in some cities on that supposed phenomenon. Trump’s remark that “the police are the most mistreated people in this country,” although it turns the nation’s concerns about race and police homicides on their head, is a bold play to his base.
EM: Bush did a good job explaining why banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. would be a horrible solution to a more global problem.
AH: A Bush/Kasich ticket could actually win if they made it to the general. Shame their voices are getting drowned out.
Bush’s one shining moment of the night came when he seized the opportunity to attack Trump’s vitriol, something no other candidate dared do. On the contrary, after his skirmish with Cruz over his citizenship, Trump’s anger was more often sympathized with and “under[stood]” by other candidates who looked to both co-opt his appeal and sidestep his animus.
Bush didn’t completely denounce Trump’s anti-Syrian-refugee stance, but he did criticize the idea of not letting any Muslims into the country, saying that it would send the wrong message to the U.S.’s Muslim allies. Kasich, Christie, Rubio and Cruz all echoed Trump’s stance against admitting Middle Eastern refugees. Carson was vaguely anti-refugee as well. Taking on a sentiment that could ruffle feathers among the conservative base was a risky move for Bush, but he seized the opportunity to be the anti-Trump, and it paid off for him with the audience.
AH: Here we go! Carson with the flat tax system based on biblical tithing again. Good finish by Carson there to even out his weak opening in that statement.
Both Carson and Cruz continued to float their flat tax proposals, despite the common knowledge that those plans would result in large government funding holes if passed.
The short discussion of tax reform came toward the end of this debate and centered mostly around the U.S.’s corporate tax rate, which Christie called “the highest rate in the world.” We have discussed in-depth the candidates’ tax plans in the past here, but on the question of corporate taxes it’s worth pointing out that Christie’s claim is incorrect — the U.S. rate isn’t highest by any means, and by some measures of the effective rate companies pay (after various deductions), the U.S. is pretty far from the top.
AH: Christie, enough with the damn Hillary attacks.
EM: I completely agree. Any candidate that attacks another one like that just doesn’t have their own substance to explain instead.
Clinton was roundly attacked by everyone on stage, as is to be expected in this campaign. None were more vocal than Christie, who made several moves to link Clinton to Obama’s presidency — which isn’t hard to do, given she was his secretary of state. Christie’s framing of a Clinton presidency as a “third term of Obama’s leadership” is a textbook strategy in presidential campaigns, and it resonated with the audience.
It’s hard to say that the debate had a clear “winner,” so to speak — Rubio and Cruz both had strong performances. Trump probably didn’t win himself any new fans, but his doubling down on being the “angry” candidate and promising to save America from being seen as the “stupid” country plays right into his base of support.
Kasich is shaping up to be a viable VP candidate, partly because it’s clear he’ll never become the frontrunner, but also because his sensible tone could satisfy the Republican party’s establishment side that’s wary of Trump’s unruly politics. Carson and Bush, despite his pushback against Trump, lagged behind the others. Going into the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, Trump and Cruz are neck-and-neck. But nationwide, the rest of the GOP still trails Trump by a considerable margin. It remains to be seen whether a candidate can still shake up the race.