The first top-tier GOP candidates' debate last night demonstrated that Republicans have a bumper crop of impressive candidates ready to give the Democrats a tough fight for the White House in the 2016 election.
They all seemed to agree that President Obama's effort to fundamentally transform America is a hideous, colossal flop and that the Constitution, so long ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike, needs to be restored to the central place it used to occupy in our nation's body politic.
The candidates were united in promising to repeal Obamacare because they recognize it is a colossally expensive policy mistake that is both destroying the U.S. healthcare system and impinging on America's historically vibrant civil society while denying patients the freedom to choose.
Immigration was a central issue in the 10-way debate. The candidates didn't agree on every aspect of what to do about the country's immigration policies, but they agreed that at a minimum strengthening America's borders is key to resolving the illegal aliens crisis.
The contenders selected for the Fox News Channel and Facebook-sponsored debate were those who polled highest according to an average of five national polls. They were: Donald Trump, who is the current frontrunner in the polls; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; retired brain surgeon Ben Carson; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Kentucky Gov. Rand Paul; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who just barely made the cutoff. (Time made a transcript of the debate available here.)
Although there was some acrimony, it was an amazingly civil affair considering the outsized personalities involved.
Debate participants were shown a video from what some are calling the "kiddie table" candidates' debate that began four hours before the main debate. That debate was for GOP candidates who failed to poll high enough to make it into the top 10 slots.
In the video clip, Carly Fiorina took deadly aim at President Obama's crazy nuclear nonproliferation framework with the Islamofascists of Iran. She said:
When America does not lead, the world is a dangerous and a tragic place. This is a bad deal. Obama broke every rule of negotiation. Yes, our allies are not perfect, but Iran is at the heart of most of the evil that is going on in the Middle East through their proxy.
People have responded enthusiastically to Fiorina's statement. According to Breitbart News, people using social media such as Facebook and Twitter thought the former Hewlett-Packard CEO won the debate. Just 33 minutes into that debate, stats whiz Nate Silver tweeted, "Carly Fiorina's crushing it so far, based on Google search traffic."
The 10 top-tier candidates enthusiastically embraced, or at least did not oppose, Fiorina's message. They made it clear that the nation's foreign policy has to recognize the importance of our relationship with Israel, the sole outpost of Western civilization in the troubled Middle East. American foreign policy also has to align with the nation's best interests, they said, and it is long past time for the United States to stop sending money to countries that are hell-bent on America's destruction.
Back in the main debate, Mike Huckabee voiced approval for Fiorina's sentiments:
Ronald Reagan said “trust, but verify.” President Obama is “trust, but vilify.” He trusts our enemies and vilifies everyone who disagrees with him. And the reason we disagree with him has nothing to do with party.
The Obama administration's Iran deal "didn’t even get four hostages out. We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want."
What the Iranians have said is, “we will wipe Israel off the face of the map, and we will bring death to America.” When someone points a gun at your head and loads it, by God, you ought to take them seriously, and we need to take that seriously.
Chris Christie burnished his credentials as a defense and foreign policy hawk. "The first thing we need to do to make America stronger is to strengthen our military," he said. He continued:
As we move towards dealing with foreign aid, I don't disagree with Senator [Rand] Paul's position that we shouldn't be funding our enemies. But I absolutely believe that Israel is a priority to be able to fund and keep them strong and safe after eight years of this administration.
Ted Cruz took aim at President Obama's weak, worse-than-useless response to ISIS. He explained he would "introduce the Expatriate Terrorist Act in the Senate that said if any American travels to the Middle East and joining ISIS, that he or she forfeits their citizenship so they don’t use a passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans."
He added, "We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world."
Some sparks flew whenever immigration-related issues were raised, as candidates criticized their own party for not doing the right thing for years. Americans are angry in part because for decades politicians have been paying lip service to fixing what's wrong with the immigration system while failing to follow through and actually rectify the various problems.
Accused of flip-flopping, Scott Walker explained that he dropped his support for amnestying illegal aliens and so-called comprehensive immigration reform because that's what the voters want.
"I actually listened to the American people," Walker said. "And I think people across America want a leader who’s actually going to listen to them."
Cruz said he wants to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities which harbor and protect illegal aliens from deportation. He sponsored legislation that Senate GOP leadership blocked.
The senator took the opportunity to gently criticize Trump.
You know, there was reference made to our leaders being stupid. It’s not a question of stupidity. It’s that they don’t want to enforce the immigration laws. That there are far too many in the Washington cartel that support amnesty.
Ben Carson said having Hillary Clinton as the Democrat's presidential nominee "would be a dream come true." He continued:
But you know, the fact of the matter is, she is the epitome of the progressive — the secular progressive movement. And she counts on the fact that people are uninformed, the Alinsky model, taking advantage of useful idiots. Well, I just happen to believe that people are not stupid. And the way I will come at it is to educate people, help people to actually understand that it is that progressive movement that is causing them the problems.
The candidates also came down in support of slashing bureaucratic red tape, reforming business-related regulations, and reducing tax burdens. Such action, they said, would spur economic growth and ensure America's future remains bright.
Marco Rubio urged tax reform. He said:
The first thing we need to do is we need to even out the tax code for small businesses so that we lower their tax rate to 25 percent, just as we need to lower it for all businesses. We need to have a regulatory budget in America that limits the amount of regulations on our economy. We need to repeal and replace Obamacare and we need to improve higher education so that people can have access to the skills they need for 21st century jobs. And last but not least, we need to repeal Dodd-Frank. It is eviscerating small businesses and small banks.
Throughout the two-hour debate, high-flying real estate tycoon Donald Trump exposed some of his flaws as he effortlessly dominated the screen.
There may have been 10 candidates on stage last night at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, but the event was quickly transformed into The Donald Trump Show. The moderators and other candidates took turns attacking the master showman and he punched right back.
Along the way, Trump, whose half-conversion to conservatism is a fairly recent phenomenon, disavowed his past support for single-payer health care in the U.S. and criticized Obamacare, saying he would replace it with a market-based system and take other steps to provide health care for the poor. He also claimed that he had no idea in the past that when he gave sizable donations to the embattled, thoroughly corrupt Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, that the money would be misused.
Trump immediately grabbed the spotlight by being the only one of the candidates on stage who refused to pledge not to run as a third-party candidate in the event he fails to capture the Republican Party's nomination. No third-party candidacy for the U.S. presidency has ever succeeded and the conventional thinking at the moment is that such a candidacy by Trump would almost certainly put yet another Democrat in the White House.
Trump's refusal to take the pledge brought boos from the audience and an early attack from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky who shouted, "This is what’s wrong!"
I mean, this is what’s wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already ... Hey, look, look! He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons, okay? So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent ... but I’d say that he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.
Trump was dismissive. "Well, I’ve given him plenty of money," the billionaire said pointing in Paul's general direction, thereby implying he bought Paul as well.
The two opening questions specifically aimed at Trump were arguably somewhat below the belt, seemingly calculated to tame the flamboyant reality-television star. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Trump about the past remarks he's made about women.
“One of the things people love about you is that you speak your mind, don’t use a politician’s filter,” said Kelly. “But that has its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You call women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'”
"Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump shot back.
“No, it wasn’t,” Kelly responded.
It was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell. You once told a contestant on "The Celebrity Apprentice" that it "would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees." Does that sound to you like the temperament of someone we should elect as president ... how would you answer the question from Hillary Clinton … that you are part of the war on women?
Trump took the question in stride. He said "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct." He continued:
I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.
And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
But you know what, we — we need strength, we need energy, we need quickness and we need brains in this country to turn it around. That, I can tell you right now.
Chris Wallace said to Trump, "it has not escaped anybody’s notice that you say that the Mexican government, the Mexican government is sending criminals — rapists, drug dealers, across the border. Governor [Jeb] Bush has called those remarks, quote, 'extraordinarily ugly.'" Wallace continued:
I’d like you — you’re right next to him — tell us — talk to him directly and say how you respond to that and — and you have repeatedly said that you have evidence that the Mexican government is doing this, but you have evidence you have refused or declined to share. Why not use this first Republican presidential debate to share your proof with the American people?
Trump shot back saying, "So, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris. You wouldn’t even be talking about it," he said to applause.
This was not a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement. And I said, Mexico is sending. Except the reporters, because they’re a very dishonest lot, generally speaking, in the world of politics, they didn’t cover my statement the way I said it. The fact is, since then, many killings, murders, crime, drugs pouring across the border, our money going out and the drugs coming in. And I said we need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly. And I don’t mind having a big beautiful door in that wall so that people can come into this country legally. But we need, Jeb, to build a wall, we need to keep illegals out.
Wallace followed up asking Trump to provide any specific evidence he had that "the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border."
Border Patrol, I was at the border last week. Border Patrol, people that I deal with, that I talk to, they say this is what’s happening. Because our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid. And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them. Why should they when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them? And that’s what is happening whether you like it or not.
Insulting politicians in Washington, D.C., by calling them "stupid" may be a crowd-pleaser but it is not particularly presidential. Nor does it actually address the illegal aliens crisis in America which is related to its porous border to the south. Trump is going to have to do better than that in the future if he wishes to be taken seriously.
Jeb Bush was asked by Megyn Kelly about a news story that surfaced yesterday which claimed he called Trump "a clown, a buffoon, [and] something that cannot be repeated on television."
Bush denied it but acknowledged he has called Trump's language "divisive."
We’re not going on win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day. Dividing the country. Saying, creating a grievance kind of environment. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message.
Trump replied that Bush has complained about his "tone." He said:
But when you have people that are cutting Christians’ heads off, when you have a world that the border and at so many places, that it is medieval times, we’ve never — it almost has to be as bad as it ever was in terms of the violence and the horror, we don’t have time for tone. We have to go out and get the job done.
This in itself is a profound insight. We live in a brutal world filled with people who want to harm and kill Americans. It's time people got more upset and emotional about the external threats the nation faces. It's time for Americans to recognize that the threat from Islamic terrorism is no longer some vague, distant thing. The Islamists aren't at America's gates; they're already here on the inside, as recent domestic attacks by Muslim terrorists shows. We need to stop worrying about upsetting the easily offended and instead focus on doing what needs to be done to keep this glorious experiment in self-government around for centuries to come.
These crucial topics will be addressed by the candidates again next month. The next top-tier candidates' debate is scheduled for Sept. 16. It will take place at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and be moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper and conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.