Government & Politics

GOP Debate Overview and Highlights

CNN picked a lot of fights, and Trump self-promoted for three hours.

Observations on the Republican debate hosted by CNN at the Ronald Reagan Library:

First, it is with disgust that we note virtually every question was specifically designed to pit one candidate against another. The irony of that invitation to infighting is that this event occurred at the Reagan Library. Recall if you will that Reagan preached against Republican fratricidal infighting, and insisted Republicans should conform to his “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Most of the candidates took the CNN bait, and not one mentioned Reagan’s condemnation of such attacks, though a few did try to refocus on the failures of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, who came into the confab the poll leader, used up most of his time boasting of his greatness and issuing petulant insults to other candidates — because he had little to offer otherwise. He even opened his remarks with an insult to Rand Paul’s appearance. The only thing he left out was a “your mom” joke.

His promises of everybody “will have more of everything” were so vacuous that we expected him to add, “Free ice cream for everybody, and pizza for every lunch.” He’s running for president of the United States, not the third grade class.

It’s no wonder the MSM wants him to be the candidate. Every other Democrat candidate will look extremely serious next to him.

By contrast, every other candidate articulated substantive knowledge about the most important issues facing our nation. Introducing himself, Trump touted his authorship of “Art of the Deal,” but recall Trump’s assertion last week that he was not going to show up for the debate if CNN did not give all its profits to veteran support organizations. Apparently that “deal” fell flat.

We noted that only a few candidates adequately defended Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. But GOP candidates need to get Iraq right.

The only apology that needs to be offered for the Middle East meltdown is from Barack Obama for his politically motivated retreat from Iraq.

One of the most heavily applauded lines of the night was in response to Jeb Bush’s rebuttal of Trump’s derogatory remarks about George Bush’s military response to 9/11: “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe.”

Most overused line of the evening would be variations on this theme: “I’m the only one on this stage who…”

The comment that best honored the man in whose library this debate took place was from Mike Huckabee: “I’ve been listening to everybody on the stage and there is a lot of back and forth about I’m the only one who has done this, the only one who has done that… But it occurs to me as we’re sitting here in the Reagan Library that most of us would like to pay tribute to a guy who, when he got elected, didn’t get elected telling everybody how great he was. He got elected telling everybody how great the American people were.”

Indeed, Ronald Reagan appealed to the best in us as Americans, which is why he was re-elected in 1984, winning 49 of 50 states. Obama, Clinton and, yes, Donald Trump, appeal to the worst in us. If a Republican is seated in 2017, it will be, in large measure, because that candidate appealed to the best in us.

Carly Fiorina was the victor by acclamation, having clearly done her homework. It seemed as if she were giving a verbal PowerPoint presentation full of solid information and proposals for actually doing something. She clearly showed she belonged at the prime time debate.

But, contrary to Beltway groupthink, we think Marco Rubio outshined her. Rather than having crammed for an exam, policy was second nature to him. He was so familiar with the material, he did more than recite it — he showed he’d be comfortable leading with it. His mastery of issues put him head and shoulders above anyone else on the stage last night.

And now for a few highlights, grouped by a couple of primary topics. By virtue of the fact that it was a three hour debate, many good comments and exchanges were necessarily excluded.

Foreign policy

Bush: “There’s not a place in the world where we’re better off today than six and a half years ago. … You can’t just talk about this stuff and insult leaders around the world and expect a good result.”

Rubio: “I have an understanding of exactly what it is Russia and Putin are doing, and it’s pretty straightforward. He wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force. He himself said that the destruction of the Soviet Union — the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, and now he’s trying to reverse that. He’s trying to destroy NATO. … He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East.”

Fiorina: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

Cruz: “[T]he single biggest national security threat facing America right now is the threat of a nuclear Iran. We’ve seen six and a half years of President Obama leading from behind. Weakness is provocative, and this Iranian nuclear deal is nothing short of catastrophic. This deal, on its face, will send over $100 billion to Ayatollah Khamenei, making the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism. This deal abandons four American hostages in Iran, and this deal will only accelerate Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons. … I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

Kasich: “If [Iran] cheat[s], we slap the sanctions back on. If they help Hamas, and Hezbollah, we slap the sanctions back on. And, if we find out that they may be developing a nuclear weapon, then the military option is on the table.

Paul: "Should we continue to talk with Iran? Yes. Should we cut up the agreement immediately? That’s absurd. Wouldn’t you want to know if they complied? Now, I’m going to vote against the agreement because I don’t think there’s significant leverage, but it doesn’t mean that I would immediately not look at the agreement, and cut it up without looking to see if whether or not Iran has complied.”

Bush: “[I]t’s not a strategy to tear up an agreement. A strategy would be how do we confront Iran? And, the first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel’s back.”

Huckabee: “[The Iran deal] threatens the United States of America. And we can’t treat a nuclear Iranian government as if it is just some government that would like to have power. This is a government that for 36 years has killed Americans, they kidnapped Americans, they have maimed Americans. They have sponsored terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, and they threaten the very essence of Western civilization.”

Rubio: “[T]he United States military was not built to conduct pinprick attacks. If the United States military is going to be engaged by a commander in chief, it should only be engaged in an endeavor to win. … The number one test for use of military force should be the vital national security interest of the United States.”

Huckabee: “If you don’t have good intelligence that is reliable and honest, you won’t have good intelligence and you cannot make good decisions. The next president is primarily elected not just to know things, but to know what to do with the things that he knows. And the most dangerous person in any room is the person who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”

Immigration

Trump: “[W]e have a lot of really bad dudes in this country from outside. … They go, if I get elected, first day they’re gone. … So, we have a country of laws, they’re going to go out, and they’ll come back if they deserve to come back. If they’ve had a bad record, if they’ve been arrested, if they’ve been in jail, they’re never coming back. We’re going to have a country again.”

Christie: “What we need to do is to secure our border, and we need to do it with more than just a wall. We need to use electronics, we need to use drones, we need to use FBI, DEA and ATF, and, yes, we need to take the fingerprint of every person who comes into this country on a visa, and when they overstay their visa we need to tap them on the shoulder and say, "You have overstayed your welcome. You’re taking advantage of the American people. It’s time for you to go.”

Bush: “It does require securing the border. No one disagrees with that. But to build a wall, and to deport people — half a million a month — would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. … It would destroy community life. It would tear families apart. And it would send a signal to the rest of the world that the United States values that are so important for our long-term success no longer matter in this country.”

Trump: “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”

Rubio: “My grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live in the one society in all of human history where even I, the son of a bartender and a maid, could aspire to have anything, and be anything that I was willing to work hard to achieve. But he taught me that in Spanish, because it was the language he was most comfortable in. And he became a conservative, even though he got his news in Spanish. And so, I do give interviews in Spanish, and here’s why — because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility. And if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.”

Carson: “[A]fter we seal the borders, after we turn off the spigot that dispenses all the goodies so we don’t have people coming in here, including employment, that people who had a pristine record, we should consider allowing them to become guest workers, primarily in the agricultural sphere, because that’s the place where Americans don’t seem to want to work.”

Rubio: “First, we must secure our border, the physical border, with a wall. … But we also need to have an entry/exit tracking system. Forty percent of the people who come here illegally come legally, and then they overstay the visa. We also need a mandatory e-verify system. After we’ve done that, step two would be to modernize our legal immigration system so you come to America on the basis of what you can contribute economically, not whether or not simply you have a relative living here. And after we’ve done those two things, I believe the American people will be very reasonable and responsible about what you do with someone who’s been here and isn’t a criminal. If you’re a criminal, obviously, you will not be able to stay.”

Trump: “The 14th Amendment says very, very clearly … that [birthright citizenship for illegals] is wrong. It can be corrected with an act of Congress, probably doesn’t even need that. A woman gets pregnant. She’s nine months, she walks across the border, she has the baby in the United States, and we take care of the baby for 85 years. I don’t think so.”

Fiorina: “President Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 on solving the immigration problem. He entered Washington with majorities in the House and the Senate. He could have chosen to do anything to solve this problem. Instead, he chose to do nothing. Why? Because the Democrats don’t want this issue solved. … [T]he truth is, you can’t just wave your hands and say the 14th Amendment is gonna go away.”

Paul: “The original author of the 14th Amendment said on the Senate floor that this was applying to slaves, and did not specifically apply to others.”

Infighting

Fiorina: “Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer.”

Paul: “Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. … I think his … visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly — my goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?

Trump: "I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

Walker: “Mr. Trump, we don’t need an apprentice in the White House; we have one right now. … Just because [Trump] says it doesn’t make it true.

Trumpian self-promotion

This could have taken up the full three hours, but here’s a sampling:

"I’m Donald Trump. I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I say, not in a braggadocious way, I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with people all over the world, and I want to put whatever that talent is to work for this country. … I think I have a great temperament. I built a phenomenal business. … What I am far and away greater than an entertainer is a businessman. … I did a very good job. … People are very, very impressed with what I’ve done. … I promise if I wanted it, I would have gotten it. … I get along with all of them, and I did a damn good job in doing it. … I would get along with a lot of the world leaders that this country is not getting along with. … I respect women. I will take care of women. … We will have great teams and great people. … If I become president, we will do something really special. We will make this country greater than ever before. We’ll have more jobs. We’ll have more of everything.”

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