Republicans held their eighth nationally televised debate on ABC last night, making their final pleas to voters in New Hampshire and vying for limited space on a crowded stage. Admittedly, I’ve been neglecting the political right for most of the primary season. As a Moderate, it’s been difficult to pay attention. When Donald Trump is sucking up all the oxygen, I tend to tune out.
In the interest of fairness, and the spirit of this blog, I instead tuned in. Here’s what I learned:
The Republicans think they’re running against Obama.
It’s an obvious strategy. Run against an unpopular administration and hope the president’s unfavorable ratings carry you to an electoral win in November. Obama’s name was brought up over a dozen times. Clinton and Sanders received little attention.
The most focused attack on the president came from Rubio. His ostensibly prepared remarks about the president’s, “systematic effort to change America,” were premised on the proposition that, “President Obama knows what he’s doing.” It became a rallying cry for attacks on the young candidate for the rest of the night. Christie accused Rubio of reciting, “a memorized 25 second speech,” and Rubio responded oddly enough, by making a thirty second speech. The other candidates followed up by twisting the line to suggest Rubio supports the president’s policies.
Again, this is what we’d expect in a Republican primary, but it’s a short-sighted approach that could end up costing the Republicans in November. The newest jobs numbers released Friday show unemployment sinking to its lowest numbers since 2008. If the Republicans stay negative about a positive economy, it could strengthen the idea that they’ve lost touch with reality. It would serve them better to start running against the Democratic candidates’ vision for the future.
There’s room for common ground.
Unless, we’re talking about Donald Trump’s promise to bring back waterboarding and, “bring back a hell of a lot worse,” the extremes were kept to a minimum.
There are actually a few places where the two parties can come together, particularly on immigration. Kasich and Rubio are putting forward some serious ideas about solving the problem of immigrants without legal status already living in America. Rubio believes that, “the way forward is with the American people.” He says that enforcing immigration law is crucial to building support for a path to citizenship. Kasich eschews citizenship, but is supporting a guest worker program as a “path to legalization.” Ted Cruz, regardless of his insistence on a wall, has better ideas about using technology to enforce our current immigration laws.
On social issues from the past 50 years the distinction between Republicans and Democrats remains sharp. However, current issues have softened the lines. Trump aside, Republican candidates are taking a positive tone with Muslim-Americans. Rubio called for, “strong, positive relationships with Muslims in America,” with Christie agreeing on the need for cooperation. John Kasich promoted the need for minority entrepreneurship, protections for the disabled, and “collaboratives” between police and disadvantaged communities.
All of the candidates agreed that women serving in combat roles in the military was a positive development, and supported opening the selective service to women for the purposes of equality. Veteran’s care opened a discussion on health care, and Rubio proposed letting veterans, “take their benefits to any doctor and any hospital.”
These aren’t entirely groundbreaking ideas, but it does cut into the narrative that Republicans are unfeeling, backwards thinking Neanderthals that only want to bomb Muslims and persecute minorities and women. It’s not perfect, but these are great starting points for discussion.
Seven candidates are better than two.
Put a sizable number of strong personalities on any stage and tension is bound to unravel. The Republican candidates couldn’t even agree on their introductions. Donald Trump and Ben Carson awkwardly refused to take to their podiums until their names were called in the proper order.
From there the fireworks raged. Christie attacked Rubio’s Washington politics and attendance record, while Rubio pointed to Christie being shamed back to New Jersey after last month’s snowstorm. Jeb Bush accused Trump of using eminent domain to steal land from, “some poor old lady,” to rousing applause. Trump responded by insinuating that the audience was packed with RNC donors and special interests. Jeers and boos from the audience followed.
From the pure point of entertainment value, Republican debates are far better than Democratic debates. If watching a Dem debate is like watching your parents argue over custody of the party, then Republican debates are like watching your 7 drunk uncles argue over who’s the bigger badass. The posturing and jockeying for equal time turns every question into some kind of Lord of the Flies, seven-player tournament. It’s just too bad Carly Fiorina was left out due to an arbitrary picking process. Having her on the stage would’ve made the spectacle that much better.
The field is still wide open.
Trump and Cruz stayed under the radar and did very little to help or hurt their poll numbers. Rubio, coming off his strong showing in Iowa, lost ground with his broken record remarks. Christie rightly pounced and scored some points, but failed to make the case for his candidacy to the establishment. Ben Carson looked dead in the water, said little, and remains on life support. Jeb Bush isn’t far behind Ben Carson. If there is one dark horse in this race, it’s John Kasich. A strong showing in the Granite State could propel him forward and make him a contender.
If anyone will emerge as a viable challenge to Trump is still a question that hangs in the air and desperately needs an answer.