Much of the nation was watching with great interest as seventeen Republican presidential candidates took the stage this week to articulate their vision of America, and outline their strategies for returning the nation to its former greatness. What we learned Thursday is that Fox News proved they can be as anti-GOP as the rest of the mainstream media, Donald Trump is still a classless cad, and there are a handful of substantive candidates, including one pleasant surprise.
With the number of candidates, the “debate” was split into two segments. The first debate on Thursday, which one candidate referred to as the “happy hour debate,” featured the lower tier candidates who failed to qualify for the official debate later in the evening. The happy hour stage was shared by former Texas Governor Rick Perry; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal; former HP head Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Governor George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
There were no “knock-out punches” in the early show, but Carly Fiorina had several key responses. Perhaps her best was in reference to Donald Trump’s lead in the polls. When asked if Trump was “getting the better of her,” she responded, “Well, I don’t know. I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign,” referring to Trump’s call from Clinton, and his support of Hillary’s senatorial campaign in 2000.
She completed the thought with what I thought was a superb recapitulation of why Trump is leading, in spite of not being a real conservative. “I think he’s tapped into an anger that people feel. They’re sick of politics as usual. You know, whatever your issue, your cause, the festering problem you hoped would be resolved, the political class has failed you. That’s just a fact, and that’s what Donald Trump taps into. I would also just say this. Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?”
The logician on the early stage was clearly Fiorina, as exemplified when she answered a question about ISIS, Iran, and the instability in the Middle East. She said, “You know, Obama has presented the American people with a false choice every time. It’s what I’ve done or not done, or it’s war. It is a false choice.” Obama consistently employs the fallacious false dichotomy, or fallacy of bifurcation, argument in an attempt to justify his actions.
Charles Krauthammer concurred that Fiorina won the earlier debate. He said, “She won the debate, and she won it running away.” Her grasp of issues, succinct and persuasive solutions, and the logic of her responses were irrefutable. Krauthammer singled out her statement regarding Washington’s dysfunction, “It’s conservatism versus liberalism, and I’m a conservative.” And unlike our current president, she’s actually run something; Hewlett-Packard, one of the largest technology companies on the planet.
Sharing the stage for the main event Thursday were real estate mogul Donald Trump; former Florida Governor Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
The prime time debate was as debasing an exercise in political futility as I’ve ever witnessed. Fox News may well have earned a new moniker, as the greatest facilitator of Democrat electoral success in mainstream media. Starting with the first question of who would not promise to run as a third-party candidate (only Donald Trump raised his hand), a raucous and caustic environment was created right out of the gate. And it went downhill from there.
The questions posed by Megyn Kelley, Brett Baier, and Chris Wallace, made the event appear more like an inquisition than a debate, with inquiries based on dumpster-diving kind of “facts,” digging up previous positions, position changes, embarrassing statements, equivocating and evolving opinions, and political failures from each of the candidate’s past. The Democrat nominee won’t have to do any research for closet skeletons on the Republicans, for the Fox News crew did it all for them.
A perfect example is Megyn Kelley’s question of Trump. “Mr. Trump, …you’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” To which Trump responded, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” Political correctness is a problem, but not “the big problem.” And one can be direct, frank, and politically incorrect, but still not be an ass. Something Trump clearly has not learned.
Because of the whole tenor and approach of the Fox News crew, there were very few highlights. The whole prime time event was a fiasco that did little to bring out the best of the candidates, and rather seemed designed to draw out the worst in each one. Fox apparently wanted to prove to the mainstream media they belong to the anti-Republican media group.
Of the few highlights, was Senator Ted Cruz’s denunciation of congressional leadership. “There is a reason that we have $18 trillion in debt. Because as conservatives, as Republicans, we keep winning elections. We got a Republican House, we’ve got a Republican Senate, and we don’t have leaders who honor their commitments. I will always tell the truth and do what I said I would do.”
Another was Governor Walker’s comments which reveal the fundamental difference between the two major parties on economics. “You know, people like Hillary Clinton think you grow the economy by growing Washington…I think most of us in America understand that people, not the government creates jobs. And one of the best things we can do is get the government out of the way, repeal Obamacare, reign in all the out of control regulations put in place, and all of the above energy policy, give people the education, the skills that the need to succeed, and lower the tax rate and reform the tax code. That’s what I’ll do as president, just like I did in Wisconsin.”
Senator Rubio reaffirmed that distinction with one of his responses. “The economy is very different than it was five years ago. It’s an economy that has placed us in global competition with dozens of other countries around the world. Now the big companies that have connections in Washington can affect policies to help them, but the small companies are the ones that are struggling. We need to even out the tax code…We need to limit the amount of regulations on our economy, repeal and replace Obamacare…Dodd Frank. We need to make America fair again, but especially for small businesses.”
Dr. Ben Carson’s comments on race were classic. “I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often. I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.”
Those who displayed the greatest leadership qualities and substance were Senators Rubio and Cruz, and Governors Walker and Bush. But with all the dirty laundry aired by the Fox News crew, it’s remarkable anyone was able to rise above the fray.
At this stage, it’s entirely premature and impractical to prognosticate who the Republican nominee will be for the 2016 presidential election. For that matter, it’s likely premature to predict who the Democrat nominee will be, in light of Hillary Clinton’s declining poll numbers and rising dishonesty and un-favorability perceptions.
But when a serious study of the ideology of all 17 Republican candidates is pursued, there can be no doubt that any of them would be preferable to what we’ve seen in the Oval Office for the past seven years, and anyone nominated by the Democrat Party. This was voiced perfectly by Senator Rubio’s closing comments, “God has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.”
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].