South Carolina Debate
Sunday February 14, 2016
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The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia changed the nature of the questions asked of the six remaining Republican candidates in the beginning of Saturday night's debate.
I had not realized, until they were introduced by moderator John Dickerson, that three of the six: Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush are from Florida. Donald Trump (New York), Ted Cruz (Texas) and John Kasich (Ohio) rounded out the panel.
Not surprisingly, the candidates were in favor of delaying either the nomination (by President Barack Obama) or the confirmation (by the GOP-controlled Senate) of a replacement for Justice Scalia.
As you know, my total legal education began and ended in Professor Robert Hill's three hour Con Law class at Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750. Thus, I don't have an informed opinion.
CBS decided viewers couldn't keep the question in mind for the 90 seconds the candidates had to answer and so they offered up a simplified version at the bottom of the screen.
The pre-game analysis was that this debate would be Trump vs Cruz but the early fireworks were between Trump and Bush on Middle East policy. Trump, when challenged, said that Bush was "absolutely wrong" and when he was booed, he retreated to his previous claim that the audience was laced with Bush lobbyists.
The audience got under Trump's skin and Trump got under Bush's skin. Throughout the debate Trump specifically went after Bush which, I thought, gave Bush the opportunity to show that he was over his reticence to fight back because he got a lot of chances to do it in the two years and he took advantage of them.
Ted Cruz, when asked about the Middle East, showed a depth of understanding that long on facts and short on politics. Marco Rubio showed he was back in form by giving a clear and concise answer that was smooth but didn't sound canned.
Kasich went back to his experience on the House Armed Services Committee and neatly pivoted to getting rid of Saddam (good thing) but getting into the middle of a Sunni-Shia-Kurd civil war (bad thing) for the price of it.
After the first break, the conversation went from foreign affairs to economic affairs.
Trump drew the first question about his economic policy and saving Social Security. He went on his bringing jobs riff but the questioner, Kimberley Strassel, asked him how specifically he would safe Social Security. He said he would rid it of waste, fraud, and abuse.
Cruz touted his 10 percent flat tax plan, and questioner Major Garret asked him whether his plan was a duplicate of a European-style Value Added Tax. It, Sen. Cruz said, is not a VAT.
Rubio defended his tax plan by pointing out it would increase tax credit for children and then making his point that businesses can deduct investments in equipment, and parents should be able to deduct investments in their children. Good answer, I thought.
Kasich used his experience in Ohio (from an $8 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus) and made an impassioned plea for treating the mentally ill, the drug addicted and the chronically ill poor.
Jeb Bush went after Kasich on his expansion of Obamacare. Kasich fired back by talking about Bush's first term as Governor of Florida.
The oppo researchers won the first hour of this debate.
Immigration was the next topic. It began with Donald Trump who repeated his goal of having a wall (paid for by Mexico) to stop illegal immigration. Marco Rubio said that he was opposed to amnesty and agreed that the first mission was to stop the continued illegal flow across our border.
Ted Cruz tried to stay away from naming Rubio in his opposition to a massive immigration plan, but couldn't do it and talked about the [Chuck] Schumer, Marco Rubio immigration plan.
Rubio fired back that Cruz proposed an amendment to that bill that would have provided aid to illegal immigrants.
Bush "reached into his inner Christie" and said, that what is wrong with this system is having to listen to two Senators arguing over an amendment to a bill that didn't pass anyway.
Kasich called for a path to legalization (not citizenship) for those who have not committed a crime, but also called on his opponents to stop the ad hominem attacks on one another. Take down the attack ads, he said, and run ads telling us what you would do to make America better.
The discussion moved to the economy. Cruz called for lower taxes and less regulation to allow small businesses to hire more people who can then get started on the road to economic success.
Trump was asked about his threat to levy 35% tariffs on goods manufactured overseas by companies who moved those manufacturing jobs off shore. He said he understood he couldn't do it by executive fiat, but that he would work with the Congress to impose such tariffs.
A discussion about poverty morphed into eminent domain then into tax payer funding of Planned Parenthood leading Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to call each other liars.
When given a free throw to talk about anything he wanted to under the title of "politically incorrect," Ben Carson said "free college is a non-starter." John Kasich was asked about his having been called "Democrats favorite Republican." Kasich talked about Blue-collar Democrats saying "they think the Democratic party has left them." I don't know if he's used that before, but he ought to say it a lot.
When asked if he's ever been told he was wrong and listened to it he said he hired top, top people and sometimes they're wrong. But he never admitted that anyone had told him he was wrong except for his wife.
In the end, I thought Trump sounded defensive - especially about Bush. Bush, as I noted above, used Trump's outbursts to his benefit. Rubio made a complete recovery from his last debate performance. Cruz has learned to soften the edges and did a good job in his answers.
Kasich is getting better and better and clearly is drawing strength from his 2nd place finish in New Hampshire. Even Ben Carson sounded like he's been reading his briefing books and while not a towering political presence, stood his ground.
The South Carolina primary is next Saturday.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to a site comparing the candidates' tax plans, and to the primary/caucus calendar.
Also a Mullfoto that made me laugh out loud in downtown DC last week.
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