In less than three weeks, the first Republican primary will take place in the Hawkeye state which is Iowa. As I sifted through the notes I had made during the debate, I tried desperately to relive the experience all over again. After all I had given up 2 whole hours of my time, with I might add considerable concentration, to see if the assembled candidates could respond articulately to the moderators questions with any gems of meaningful policy insights. I sought, to no avail, to feel that sense of excitable interest that one [or more] of them would deliver. My disappointment, not altogether surprising, was confirmed as their individual responses merely enhanced a collective perspective on the touchstones of this 2016 GOP race.
Fear was again front and centre in the many answers of the candidates covering a wide array of issues from the foreign policy field to the economic to the gun question to trade and taxes. Anger was expressed repeatedly, but not towards each other, rather laser-like on the perceived monumental failures of the Obama presidency and his current administration. A special and concentrated dose of venom was levelled at Hillary Clinton [she would be another 4 years of Obama-like leadership and policies]. Jeb Bush stated that she is unfit for the presidency because she is under FBI investigation.
If she gets elected, her first 100 days, instead of setting an agenda, she might be going back and forth between the White House and the courthouse. We need to stop that.
I have always stated that one should listen carefully, and critically, to what ‘your’ opponents are saying. It helps to focus the mind and hone a response. Several candidates declared themselves, and only themselves, capable of giving America and its peoples what they clearly think they wish and need. A renewed America, resurgent and resplendent after eight disastrous years under a President they all believed deliberately sought to change America, both domestically and internationally, by undermining its strength and economy. Bush claimed that
In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can’t even project force.
Marco Rubio said
But in 2008, we elected a president that didn’t want to fix America. He wants to change America. We elected a president that doesn’t believe in the Constitution. He undermines it. We elected a president that is weakening America on the global stage. We elected a president that doesn’t believe in the free enterprise system.
There is a shared common theme, albeit with individual nuances, of security above all else and an economic turnaround via tax reforms and tougher trade deals that will initiate a renaissance of both the American Dream [of exceptionalism] and the diminished American middle class.
To re-establish American global hegemony from the perceived negative impact of Obama’s deliberate weakening of its military, Bush, Christie, and the others promised to ‘rebuild’ with more spending.
As president of the United States, I will be a commander in chief that will have the back of the military. We will rebuild the military to make sure that it is a solid force, not to be the world’s policeman, but to make sure that in a peaceful world, people know that the United States is there to take care of our own national interests and take care of our allies.[Bush]
This would show, as Cruz said “I have your back” not only in reference to the armed forces [and other agencies] domestically, but provide leadership and confidence to America’s allies and generate fear amongst America’s enemies.
When the matter of Nikki Haley’s response to the SOTU address was raised wherein she appeared to advise Republicans to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices” it was clear, and later confirmed by her, that she had Trump in mind specifically and others more generally. Trump embraced this epithet brilliantly by first reminding everyone that he and Nikki were still friends, and then describing what was the root course of his anger:
I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.
On another favourite topic that invokes fear, namely immigration and particularly the case of the Syrian refugees, Trump stood steadfast but alone on his earlier demand to ban all Muslims from entering the USA for the next year [at least]. His Trojan horse allusion was used yet again to perpetuate the notion that America would be vulnerable if these people were allowed to enter. Other candidates were less absolute about banning all Muslims [Bush on Indonesia and mocking Trump’s comment again as unhinged] but offered either partial bans [Kasich on Syrians] or much more rigorous screening procedures. [Bush] There was a heated exchange toward the very end of the debate between Cruz and Rubio over their respective actions on the immigration file.
In response to the question on guns and gun control the candidates quickly and uniformly wrapped themselves in the protective shield of the 2nd amendment. [Trump “I am a 2nd amendment person”] The fear factor around the [loss of]ownership of guns was cited by several on stage as they tore into Obama and his ‘crusade’ to rid every American of their firearms [see Rubio]. Bush especially cited his record on this issue while Governor of Florida and affirming his A plus rating by the NRA. Trump trotted out the old shibboleth about guns not being the problem per se, only their human users. He even suggested that things might have been different in recent incidents if others [usually the victims] had been armed at the time of the event. Surprisingly both Bush and Trump did raise the matter of mental health illnesses but only to point out that on the one hand this should have proven to be a [background check] sufficient to restrict purchase[Bush] and on the other to castigate the shutting down and off-loading of these mental health problems by States to other agencies ill-equipped for the task [Trump][without a remedy].
When the debate question turned to trade and specifically at a recent comment in the NY Times quoting Trump about a levying of a 45% tariff against China, it provided the Donald a perfectly pitched slow ball to hit out of the park. His elaborate response even lead the moderator [Neil Cavuto] who asked the question to quib “I’m sorry, you lost me”. Undaunted, others like Bush, jumped at the opportunity to suggest that this tactic would inevitably fail because of Chinese retaliation.
Toward the end of the evening’s debate, the touchstone topic of taxes was raised and elicited an interesting swinging match between Rubio and Cruz. The spirit of Saint Ronnie [Ronald Regan] was invoked in an effort to use the power of Reganomics to sprinkle fairy dust around the merits of a flat tax. Reducing the burden of corporate taxes first and personal taxes second would instil confidence in the entrepreneurial class to invest in America [and even return off-shore monies!] and revive the fortunes of a depleted middle class through new employment prospects.
Last night’s Republican debate delivered no clear cut winner or knockout blows. The day after brings a deluge of reportage covering all shades of interpretation. By some accounts Donald Trump had performed well enough to head into the last debate and the Iowa primary still in the front-runner position.
A Google snap poll showed viewers believed Trump, who in the most recent debates was at times less engaged, won the night with 37.3 percent to Cruz’s 26.6 percent and Rubio’s 12.1 percent.
For other accounts on the question of winners and losers see http://www.vox.com/2016/1/15/10774204/winners-losers-republican-debate-charleston-fox-business. Also https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/14/winners-and-losers-from-the-sixth-republican-presidential-debate/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/16/us/politics/who-won-the-republican-debate-cruz-and-trump-impress-the-critics.html?_r=0.
Eighteen days is the time left before the Iowa primary with one more debate scheduled for just days before the vote. Momentum is crucial so let the attack ads fly and the punch – counter-punch of the leading two contenders help rush us headlong toward Iowa.