Live-Blogging the 4th Republican Presidential Primary Debate

11:10 pm: Senator Paul calls us “the richest, freest, most-humanitarian nation in the history of the world,” and then decries our (ostensibly) high rate of public spending.  He calls himself “the only true fiscal conservative on this stage.”  That’s it; “mercifully short” is all I can say for Paul’s closing statement.

Governor Kasich also closes as one might expect; referring to his considerable qualifications and vision, and going on a bit too long about it.

Ms. Fiorina also closes-out the way one might expect, attacking Hillary Clinton and warning us that under a Clinton Presidency, “the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”  I think one of her advisors told her that she was widely perceived as being a callous plutocrat, and that she should…say something about inequality.

Governor Bush gives just about the mildest closing statement I have ever heard; he seems to have resigned himself to whatever happens in the Republican Presidential Primary, and to be surprisingly well-humored about it.

Senator Cruz invokes his father’s status as an immigrant and the 1980 Presidential Election that gave us President Reagan.

Senator Rubio leverages his charisma to talk about declining faith in the American dream.  Being a good speaker allows a person pursuing a leadership position to talk about what is scaring people while sounding like he is already at work finding an answer to the threat.

Dr. Carson closes out with a thought for the 5 Americans who have died of drug overdoses during the preceding 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Donald Trump promises that he will make the United States better than ever before.  He does it with somewhat less of the chutzpah from his previous debates and campaign speeches, but there is no “fresh material.”

Moderator Neil Cavuto notes that this debate was edifying but didn’t offer many fireworks, affirming for the viewers that “this isn’t about us, it’s about them,” gesturing to the candidates.  Clever sideswipe at CNBC’s frackas with the Republican Presidential hopefuls, Cavuto.

11:03 pm: Donald Trump identifies corporate inversion as a huge drain of wealth from the United States, noting that there are believed to be over $2.5 trillion–Trump suspects that it is much more–being held by formerly US-based corporations overseas.  He proposes a lower tax rate as a way of bringing that money into the United States.

Why don’t we shift taxation from corporations to investors?

11:00 pm: Senator Rubio says that the Democrats have the same tired ideas–more government, more regulation, more spending–in response to 21st century challenges.  I notice immediately that if you replace the word “Democrats” with “Republicans” and replace each instance of the word “more” with the word “less,” it reads even more-plausibly.  I notice this because Senator Rubio often invokes the fast-paced World of the 21st century…and then repeats his party’s standing positions since the Reagan years.

10:54 pm: Ms. Fiorina attributes the 2008 Financial Crash to “government.”  She specifically notes that the Bush Administration promoted consolidation of larger banks and encouraged extending a longer line of credit to prospective homebuyers of marginal means…but the problem, in her view, is ultimately “government.”  It’s like the relinquishment of an opportunity to learn something about the difference between a sound government policy and an unsound one.

10:51 pm: Governor Kasich argues that Senator Cruz has exhibited an attitude that is unbecoming of an executive: “When millions of people are waiting to watch their life savings disappear…you don’t just say we have philosophical…concerns…Philosophy doesn’t work when you run something.”

10:46 pm: Governor Kasich attributes Wall Street’s growing sense of deviousness and dysfunction to greed.  He quickly speaks up for the free enterprise system itself, but invokes Michael Novak in noting that Capitalism hasn’t by itself promoted enough of a value system to moderate the acquisitive (and thus potentially fraudulent or risk-acceptant) tendencies of financial managers and CEOs.  It’s an appreciable answer philosophically-speaking, but I don’t think “We need to change the culture” is a practical way to restrain risk-prone behavior on Wall Street.  That’s simply what regulations and oversight are for.

Senator Cruz speaks loudly and confidently in opposition to ever bailing-out large American banks again.  He intones boldly and slows as he lands; moderator Neil Cavuto seems surprised by Senator Cruz’s blanket commitment, saying that in a hypothetical collapse of Bank of America “millions of depositors would be on the line, with that decision.”

Senator Cruz filibusters and doesn’t respond.

10:41 pm: Governor Bush calls for higher capital requirements for banks–An intrusive Federal regulation?!–and says that “Dodd-Frank did the opposite of that,” saying that its capital requirements aren’t high-enough.  That’s not the opposite, Governor; Jeb! actually wants more Dodd-Frank, not less of it.  Hmmm…

10:36 pm: Governor Kasich speaks at great length about his own record, both in Congress and as Governor of Ohio.  It’s an impressive record…and he speaks so long and with so little of Senator Rubio’s charisma that I come away with an image of the proverbial snake eating its own tail…though it is a very qualified and politically-moderate snake…

10:34 pm: Senator Rubio again steals the stage, protesting the Islamic State’s hatred of our values, saying there is no compromise to be had with radicals who hate us for allowing women to drive.  He says it’s either our way or their way, and that the Islamic State cannot be ignored.  Resounding applause; Senator Paul has been marginalized in the foreign policy debate.

10:31 pm: Senator Paul attributes the rise of the Islamic State to our support for the Free Syrian Army, arguing that we should have stayed out of this conflict.  He gets the history of the Syrian Civil War disturbingly wrong: We did stay out of the Syrian conflict, to our shame, since the Assad Family Regime employed collective punishment against thousands of innocents starting over 4 1/2 years ago.  Peaceful protesters were replaced over time by armed protesters, then defecting army units, and later, Islamists, many of them foreigners.  It was a conflagration that we ignored; we followed Senator Paul’s ignorant and timorous advice too well.

10:30 pm: A cacophony onstage as half of the Republican candidates try to follow Ms. Fiorina.

10:27 pm: Ms. Fiorina attacks both Trump and Paul for proposing that we not negotiate from a position of strength–in particular, that they wouldn’t allow for a large-enough military.  Ms. Fiorina calls for thousands of more troops in Germany (maybe) as a way of standing up to Russia.

10:24 pm:  Governor Bush attacks Donald Trump for applauding Putin’s intervention on behalf of the Assad Regime.  He chides Trump for thinking of Middle Eastern politics in terms of big fish, bigger fish, where the people we loathe the most are destroyed by those we merely dislike, and those we dislike are taken-out by those who just annoy us a bit.  “That’s like playing a board game.  That’s like playing Monopoly.  That’s not the way the world works!”

Governor Bush speaks in favor of humanitarian intervention, but circumspectly.  He calls out the Islamic State for its long-term agenda of mass murder, invoking beheadings of Christians.

10:22 pm: Donald Trump claims he knows President Putin very well because “we were stablemates” during their 60 Minutes appearance.  He’s all for Putin’s intervention in Syria on the side of the Assad Regime.  Russia is actually helping the Assad Family Regime to batter what’s left of the Free Syrian Army far more than it is taking the fight to the Islamic State.

10:19 pm: Dr. Carson thinks that the Middle East is going to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “base” at this rate.  That’s kinda funny; I thought it was more like Syria is Russia’s last ally in the Middle East, and Putin is burdened with defending the Assad Family Regime.  The same can be said for Russia’s ugly intervention in Ukrainian politics, which has led to wasteful war in the southeast of the country.  It’s not an enviable position; some Republicans, understandably frustrated with seeing so much Russian adventurism in other countries, have confused what is really Russian desperation with Russian strength.

10:13 pm: The music tried to play-off the debate for a commercial break, and it slowly faded-out, beaten by an ad-hoc agreement between a moderator and a candidate.  It’s pretty funny.

10:12 pm: So, Donald Trump tells us that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous deal for America.  Note that Donald Trump has managed to avoid having discussions of the efficacy of the free market with the other candidates.

10:05 pm: An interesting and (in my recollection unprecedented) argument breaks-out between Senator Paul and Senator Rubio over Rubio’s proposal to increase military spending.  Rubio calls Paul an isolationist.  Paul avers that he is concerned about national defense (though I admit I suspect that his ideas about what that entails predate the Jackson Administration) but that he doesn’t want to “bankrupt this county.”

Senator Cruz defends Rubio, saying “If you think it’s expensive to defend this country, you should see how expensive it is not to defend it.”  Big applause.  The Republican Party is not attracted to a leaner Defense posture.

Ms. Fiorina steers the conversation back to 0-based budgeting.  She doesn’t want to talk foreign policy.  She doesn’t want to talk much about any policy issues besides slashing spending and regulations.

When it’s Donald Trump’s turn to speak, he also speaks in favor of a larger Defense budget and military.

10:03 pm: Senator Rubio is forced to defend tax credits for children.  He sounds passionate.

Senator Paul identifies Senator Rubio’s proposal for a refundable child tax credit as a $1 trillion welfare transfer payment.  Libertarians really will stick to their guns, Saturday Night Live-style: Families are not sacred and to be protected, they are potentially another object of welfare transfer payments.

10:01 pm: Governor Bush just shared an anecdote in which 2 men once told him that with another $2,300 (presumably coming from a tax cut), they would go back to South Carolina and start a business.  There’s another hour in this rose-colored glass house?

9:56 pm: Senator Cruz proposes no taxes on the first $36,000 of Americans’ income, and a flat 10% tax rate on income beyond that.  It eliminates the capital gains tax, the payroll tax and the corporate income tax, and yes, it eliminates the IRS.  There would be a 16% flat tax on business.  Cruz promises about a $4,000 tax reduction on a mother in a family of 4 making about $40,000 a year.  Is he accounting for her deductions?  A moderator asks about paying for the tax cut, and Senator Cruz says that the Tax Policy Foundation scored about a $3.7 trillion cost–about the size of the entire Federal budget–to those tax cuts over 10 years.  He then leans on the idea that flatter and lower taxes would stimulate economic activity and thus make up for all the programs (and entire Cabinet Departments) he would close down.

9:53 pm: It occurs to me that Republicans can generalize their discussions of economic policy through phrases that are impossible to like, such as Dr. Carson’s “This is America, the land of dreams, and we need to give people an opportunity to realize those dreams.”  Who wants to argue with that?  Few in this country want to quibble with the idea of a thousand flowers blooming in the market economy; the issue is whether Republicans’ supposedly pro-growth slashing of taxes, spending, and regulations would create the rising tide that lifts all boats.  Unfortunately, it’s pernicious, self-serving nonsense.  It sounds good to simplify it to respect for people’s dreams, though.

9:51 pm: Neil Cavuto shows us a county-by-county map which indicates an above-average interest in taxes as an economic issue in…mostly the Republican counties nationwide: Fascinating.

9:45 pm: “The truth is, the secret sauce of America is innovation and entrepreneurship.”  Ms. Fiorina goes back into her speech on breaking regulations.  She characterizes Governor Walker’s breaking of both public- and private-sector labor unions as “building a meritocracy.”

Does she really give a damn about that woman who expressed fear for her children’s future?  I don’t believe she does.

Asked what she would replace the Affordable Care Act with, Ms. Fiorina proposes high-risk insurance pools.  She also says we should try something we haven’t done in American health care to-date, which is unleash the free market…That was what led to problems of rejected claims, dropped coverage and denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, Ms. Fiorina.

9:42 pm: Oh, look, Senator Cruz has chosen to get offended at the suggestion that his unyielding opposition to any immigration reform makes him “anti-immigrant.”  Yes, it’s not the 11 million mostly-Hispanic illegal immigrants who don’t qualify for public benefits and are afraid even to talk to the police because of the likelihood of deportation are not the ones who are marginalized in America today, it’s opponents of immigration reform who have decided that they have been called a name.

9:39 pm: Senator Rubio offers more conventional Republican boilerplate ideas wrapped in a reference to the competitive challenges of a global economy.  He really relies on his charisma (which is considerable).

9:37 pm: “Thank you for letting me speak at the debate, Neil, it’s very nice of you…”  Governor Bush opens with a well-delivered joke, expressing his sense of his own undue marginalization…and then, as a friend notes, he seems to smell blood in the water and affirms everything Governor Kasich said about allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the US, work, and get right with the law and finally apply for citizenship.

The pro-immigration reform candidates on the stage are getting bigger applause from the audience tonight than the deporters.

9:33 pm: Governor Kasich follows 1 of Donald Trump’s rambling speeches about building a wall and deporting illegal immigrants by invoking President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants.  He gives a brief nod to fencing-off the border even more…and then he says deporting 11 million illegal immigrants would be both a practical impossibility and an inhumane act.

This leads to an agitated back-and-forth with Trump that leads to Trump petulantly saying that he’s a billionaire who runs “an amazing company,” and thus doesn’t have to listen to Kasich…You’re a little 1-note, Trump.  Oh, congratulations on inheriting a large fortune, Trump.

9:30 pm: Dr. Carson says he is OK with vetting.  I recall his Meet the Press interview on Sunday, when Dr. Carson said that he’s never seen media scrutiny against a Presidential hopeful like that done to him–including, he specifically opined, both Clintons!

Wow.

9:25 pm: Senator Paul is right that inflation hurts the poorest the worst; this doesn’t change the fact of his own opposition to a minimum wage (which certainly doesn’t hurt the lowest wage-earners) and opposes programs like Medicaid and SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) which definitely benefit the poor, inflation or no.  How can Republican candidates speak of helping the worst-off when millions of Americans cannot meet their basic needs for physical health and secure shelter on a minimum wage, and they oppose both a minimum wage increase and those basic Federal safety-net programs while proposing flatter income tax rates?

9:21 pm: “Under Bill Clinton, the economy added about 221,000 jobs a month.  Under George W. Bush, the economy added only about 13,000 jobs a month.  What would you say to those who say that Democratic Presidents create more jobs than Republicans?”

Carly Fiorina responds by talking about a woman who admits she fears for her children’s future.  She then proposes 0-based budgeting, flattening Federal taxes out dramatically, eliminating Federal regulations and auditing and investigating the Federal bureaucracy.  “WE HAVE TO TAKE AMERICA BACK!” she closes, to applause.  She didn’t really answer the question, and I don’t really see how eliminating Federal programs is actually about that mother’s children’s future.

9:19 pm: Governor Bush proposes big tax write-offs for investments…Isn’t there any moral hazard to that?  Wouldn’t that be very expensive for the Federal Government from a revenue standpoint?

9:18 pm: Governor Bush and Governor Kasich have a small fight over who gets to speak next: The debate stage is still crowded.

9:16 pm: “From 2008 until today, the economy has grown about 1.6% a year on average.”  Senator Cruz probably wants to include 2008 (Bush’s last year in office) and 2009 (the bottoming-out of the Great Recession) in any of his talking points about economics.  Senator Cruz romanticIzes Ronald Reagan and tax cuts…Ugh, there it is.

9:15 pm: Governor Kasich proposes an 8-year freeze of non-Defense discretionary spending.  Basically, he represents the cautious middle course in what I expect to be a legion of dramatic promises.

9:14 pm: Oops, game show buzzer–Governor Kasich bid over…on time.

9:10 pm: Senator Rubio says “If raising the minimum wage would be the (best way to help Americans at the bottom) then I’d be for it, but it isn’t.”  He invokes the 21st century; interesting, that Republicans propose their 19th century policy proposals as a response to changes they don’t fully reckon with on their own terms.

Rubio expresses a concern that raising the minimum wage will facilitate further automation; we should probably consider how many jobs have been lost due to automation, consolidation and outsourcing at the middle of the income scale.

He also says, “We need fewer philosophers (coming out of college) and more welders!” to much applause.  A naive plea for more unneeded and less-skilled labor resonates with Republican Primary voters, because the party has become the mustering place for badly-misguided working-class Whites who see their way of life collapsing due to rapid economic change and don’t see a way out.

9:08 pm: Dr. Carson is for lowering the minimum wage.  He said it should be lowered because it will lead to more minority employment.  For the record, when he referred to “tak(ing) advantage of opportunities,” he meant prospective employees at the bottom of the income scale who already can’t support themselves on the minimum wage and who he now proposes to undercut.

9:06 pm: Donald Trump is against the $15 an hour minimum wage not because of any articulated expectation about the problem of higher labor costs at the bottom of the income scale, but because “We don’t win anymore.”  He is against raising the minimum wage at all; respectful applause.

You’d think he’d notice that States with lower minimum wages don’t necessarily have a lower unemployment rate or better job or GDP growth and that it might be more complex than “We can’t raise the minimum wage because we don’t win anymore,” but that’s not Trump’s schtick.

9:04 pm: So, if the Republican Presidential candidates go over on time, they will be warned by a gameshow buzzer.

9:02 pm: I’m glad that the Wall Street Journal is a part of this debate; it has serious reporting credentials.  As a contributor to The Nation put it, “The Wall Street Journal is actually two newspapers–one with a crack news staff and one with a crackpot editorial staff.”  In any case, here’s an obvious benefit of Rupert Murdoch buying the newspaper years ago.

9:01 pm: “Abraham Lincoln debated a few blocks away…”  Yes, but that was an actual debate–1 on 1, structured, with actual judgment on substantive arguments offered in response to key questions.

9:00 pm: Nice POV camera shot walking through an unremarkable cinberblock hallway to the debate venue.  Adds dramatic tension.

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