If you didn’t get much actual information from the first Republican primary debates on Thursday night, I’m sure you at least had a few laughs and did a couple of double takes.
The big talker of the night was, of course, Donald Trump. He stole the show almost immediately when he was the only candidate to refuse to pledge to not run as an independent should he fail to win the Republican nomination.
The economy is typically an important topic for voters during the first round of debates. But this time, only about 15 minutes were devoted to one of the nation’s most pressing problems. Still, that was all the time it took to see which candidates have put some actual thought into their policies.
Here are some highlights from the brief discussion of the economy, plus some other top moments.
Trump’s bankruptcy history was a major topic. He touted his business acumen as proof that he could tackle the national debt and current fiscal imbalances. He clarified that he had never personally filed for bankruptcy, despite the fact that four of his companies have.
Trump also made a weak attempt to explain his ties to the Clintons (they attended his wedding) by saying they felt obligated because he gave money to the Clinton Foundation.
Trump did make one salient economic point, though, saying Iran will be a highly rewarding investment if the sanctions are lifted. A point that many large companies and investors agree with.
Other candidates floated interesting ideas on bridging the gap between federal revenue and spending.
Ben Carson also addressed taxation by turning to the Bible, pitching the idea of a flat tax akin to tithing, where everyone gives 10% of their income to the church.
Chris Christie went after one of the GOP’s biggest economic touchstones, noting that the government needs to address entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and benefits for veterans and federal employees, which make up 71% of the national budget.
John Kasich didn’t offer any specifics about how to improve the economy, but he did make a point to mention that any economic growth needs to reach minorities and other vulnerable communities.
Jeb Bush identified immigration as an economic issue, proposing a reform initiative that would allow more highly skilled workers into the country. This stance is supported mainly by those in the growing tech sector.
Trump really let his ego roam when he claimed that he started the debate on immigration. (Republicans have been disagreeing with Obama’s immigration policy since he came into office.) Trump followed that up by claiming that Mexico is shipping criminals over the boarder to the United States because “they don’t want to pay for them.”
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Kasich’s remarks on gay marriage proved to be a delightful moment of reason and a possible bridge to right-leaning Independents wary of the GOP’s position on the issue. When asked about his stance on same-sex marriage, Kasich stated that he would respect the ruling of the Supreme Court and reasoned that just because he doesn’t agree with someone doesn’t mean he can’t love and respect them.
On a more strident note, Mike Huckabee vocalized his staunch position against a woman’s right to an abortion. He favors a constitutional amendment banning abortions. When asked how his message would appeal to Democrats and Independents, Huckabee reiterated his unequivocal “pro life” position. The former pastor also suggested that the 5th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect a fetus at the moment of conception, just the same as a person.
One of the most disturbing quotes of the evening came, not surprisingly, from Trump, on the topic of his treatment of women. When moderator Megyn Kelly asked him about his record of referring to women he doesn’t like as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” the casino/hotel mogul brushed the issue off, saying he was just joking.
Overall, the night proved to be full of buzzworthy clips and shocking pullout quotes. But as far as any substantive debate about actual tactics and policies, the discussion was about as deep as a puddle.
Who can be surprised though? With so many candidates to contend with, the debate couldn’t have been anything but a competition to be remembered. We won’t get any real sense of the candidates until the field is culled.