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The First Republican Debate Focused On All The Wrong Questions


I attended the Republican Presidential debate in Milwaukee. With all the interruptions and crosstalk on stage and a crowd that loudly cheered and jeered as if they were at WWE match it is not easy to sum up the evening.

Who won? Who Lost? Did this debate advance the chances of the next Republican nominee to win the presidency? What lessons have we learned about future debates?

The debate ill-served the Republican party (and the nation) by failing to focus like a laser on the one important question: Which candidate is most likely to win a general election against Joe Biden or whoever the central committee of the Democrat party chooses when/if polls show Biden cannot win.

We know the kingpins of the Democrat party are focused on the general. They will carry Biden across the finish line if they can. And they will dump/replace him if he becomes too great a burden.

The debate should have – and did not – focus on this question of who can win the general election. Every single person on the stage including the stagehands would serve and protect the nation better than any possible Democrat nominee. But which can win?

Each candidate should have been drilled on how they can win the general election. What issues will they focus on? We heard what issues intrigue the moderators. Who cares? Can they raise the money to win? What new voters will they bring to the polls in November 2024? How are they bulletproof against possible attacks? Show us how you can win the general.

The great accomplishment of Ronald Reagan was that he created a party that will not raise taxes, will focus on Supreme Court justices who have read the Constitution all the way through, will support parental rights and school choice and reduce the burdens of regulation and understands America must be prepared in a dangerous world.

A smart question might be where do you differ from Reagan and why? That would tell voters a great deal. But the biggest issue remains: who is most likely to win?

My second observation is that Donald Trump’s decision to not participate in the debate created a problem that will bedevil the Republican nominee in 2024 and in years to come. Trump announced he would not join the debate because he was ahead in the polls and did not need to. That will be the most often quoted Trump line of the campaign when the Biden campaign cites Trump’s reasoning for Biden avoiding most, or all,  presidential debates.

Whether they run against Trump or another Republican, Biden’s press secretary can invoke the “Trump Rule” that if you are winning (however temporarily) you do not have to debate.

Republicans need the Presidential debates. The establishment media bashed Reagan through the primaries (and, as with Trump, that only helped to win the nomination) and through the general election where it helped Jimmy Carter. Reagan won a landslide victory only after his performance in the last debate before the election.

Biden won the 2020 election by avoiding / canceling a debate with Trump just 18 days before the election. Biden insisted on a virtual debate for “safety” reasons and refused to debate in person. So that debate never happened. Trump might well have won a big victory if he had the opportunity to contrast his views and Biden’s without the fog of the press as early voters cast their ballots.

And especially as Trump expects to be the 2024 GOP nominee, missing this and other intra-party debates is missing a key learning/practice opportunity. His two debates in 2020 suggest he could use sharpening up his debating skills.

The establishment media will always muddle the Republican message and make a Carter or Biden look presidential. Paid advertisements allow the candidate to make an unfiltered message. So do the debates. And debates cost less.

For Trump that was an unforced error. A self-inflicted wound. And it hurt all future candidates.

And the candidates on stage? Each candidate had a strong moment or two. Most had a stumble that elicited reaction from the crowd and or their competitors piling on. Every one of them would be a better president than Biden.

This Wisconsin debate suggests that debates would be more useful to candidates and voters if there were fewer folks in the audience and they viewed themselves as the audience and not participants. Even Shakespeare is hard to follow when the audience chimes in.

The questions did not focus on what polls tell us is the top issue of concern for Americans: inflation, taxes, and the economy.

Every Republican nominee since Reagan has run on a platform that led with a specific tax cut. The candidates were not asked which tax cuts they would lead with. Or if they would cut taxes at all. This 2024 election will determine if your taxes go up dramatically or come down. Biden has vowed to “eliminate” and “get rid of” – his actual words – the Trump/Republican tax cuts. This would raise the average household tax burden by thousands of dollars. And Biden’s current plans are to hike our business taxes higher than China and impose a capital gains tax twice as high as China.

Why not start with each candidate stating what he or she believes to the most important issue and what they would do about it? Voters would learn two important things: the focus of each candidate and their “solution.” That is a lot to learn in a few minutes.

Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.


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One Comment

  1. Ol’ coot Biden promised to raise taxes when he debated in 2020. It seems to be a promise he will make over and over and keep unless he’s defeated. He needs to be voted or impeached out of the picture, the sooner the better. He is not good for the US citizens, he is destroying us with his taxes, executive orders, and his corruption. Let him go sun himself at his beach instead.

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