This is a recap of the GOP main event debate on August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The moderators were Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. Debate participants were Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
The debate format and the questions asked left a lot to be desired. The debate moderators should have stuck with three or four broad topics and let every candidate have a chance to respond to the same question. As it was, many of the questions were too closely tailored to the individual candidates to get any kind of response that would allow a comparison between the candidates on the issues. This was not a debate in any meaningful sense of the word, but a series of disjointed and often trivial interview questions.
As the debate was not broadcasted online and we do not have access to Fox News, the recap is based upon a transcript of what was said.
Looking over the transcripts, my overall impression is that Walker had the best overall performance, followed by Cruz. However, given that Walker is quite wooden and Cruz is a very dynamic speaker, I suspect that most conservative viewers would say that Cruz won the debate. Rubio also helped himself, while Christie, Bush, Carson, and Huckabee were in the middle of the pack. Paul and Kasich probably hurt themselves more than they helped themselves with this debate.
The real wildcard is Trump. On my scorecard, he came in well behind everyone else, primarily because he refused to answer most of the questions, and when he did his answers were strong on theater and low on depth, basic morality, and–in some cases–intelligibility. I do not think, however, that his debate performance will hurt him in the short run, and I rather suspect that many people who liked him before will like him even better now, as he can now claim martyrdom as a victim of the press.
Question: Can your promise that you will nor run as an independent if you fail to win the nomination?
Paul: “Hey, look, look! He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK? So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent…”
Trump surely did not help himself with this answer. But did Paul help himself by going on the attack and pointing out the obvious? Probably not. It must be real frustrating for Paul to see Trump steal his thunder and support.
Question: Are you ready to be president?
Carson: I have a brain, so yes.
Frankly, this was all the substance we could get from his answer. And we like him. We like him a lot.
Question: Given his superior resume, can you tell Bush why you would make a better president than he would?
Rubio: This election cannot be a resume competition, because if it was Hillary would win. The election has to be about the future, and not the past.
Question: What do you say to people who don’t want another Bush in the White House?
Bush: I’m my own man. I governed as a conservative, and I have a great record as governor.
Bush gave about as good an answer as he could have here.
Question: Based upon your Tweets, you’re a male chauvinist pig aren’t you?
Trump: I’m not politically correct, and I like to have a little fun by saying disparaging things about women.
The crowd loved his answer, apparently, but let’s face it: The man is an abusive bully. The only reason Trump could score points with such a bat guano answer is because so many people hate the press and hate that he was even asked such a question.
Question: “How can you win in 2016 when you’re such a divisive figure?”
Cruz: “I believe the American people are looking for someone to speak the truth.” There’s a reason the country is so screwed up, and it’s because politicians do not honor their commitments when they get to Washington. “I will always tell the truth and do what I said I would do.”
Question: You ran your state into the toilet. How would you be any different as president?
Christie: My state was in worse shape before I got there. We balanced the budget and cut regulations, and this created jobs.
Another good answer. Some people obviously came prepared for the debate, while others obviously didn’t.
Question: You recently signed a law that does not allow an exception for abortion in case the mother’s life in in danger. How can you be such a heartless bastard?
Walker: The unborn baby must be protected, and there are always alternatives that will protect the life of the child while protecting the life of the mother. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I am not in favor of infanticide.
This was about as strong a pro-life statement as one could make. Kudos to Walker for sticking to his guns.
Question: You are a radical extremist when it comes to social issues, so how could you ever hope to get independents and Democrats to vote for you?
Huckabee: Abortion is bad so we need to do something about it.
He did not answer the question at all. Was he paying attention?
Question: Why did you blame your own party for the rise of ISIS?
Paul: I never said that. However, Hillary and some Republicans want to send arms to ISIS’s allies, and this must not be allowed to happen. The way to stop the ISIS is to stop funding and arming them.
Obviously, Paul is off his meds once again.
Question: You defended expanding Medicaid in your state by saying that it was God’s will. Are you always going to use God as an excuse to expand government programs?
Kasich: Well, Reagan expanded Medicaid, and I had a chance to get federal money for Ohio and look at all the good things we did with it.
When an appeal to God’s will fails, bring up Reagan–it always does the trick. Of course, he failed to answer the question, but it was a nice try.
Question: Are you still in favor of amnesty?
Bush: Yes. These people simply want to provide for their families. But we need to control the border–I wrote a book about this. And amnesty is not amnesty, but earned legal status.
This will not go over well with immigration hawks. I’m also somehow doubtful that the primary motivation for most illegal immigrants is to provide for their families. At least he stuck to his guns and gave something of a straight answer.
Question: You said you had evidence that the Mexican government is sending criminals—rapists, drug dealers–across the border. Where is that evidence?
Trump: If it weren’t for me, no one would even be talking about immigration. My statement was misreported (because all reporters are liars), but somehow true. We need to build a wall.
Question: But you didn’t answer the question at all. Where is your proof?
Trump: Border Patrol told me this. Our leaders are all stupid, but the Mexicans are smart so they send the “bad ones over”.
The idea that no one was talking about immigration before Trump brought it up is pure bat guano, and anyone with their head out of their butt knows this. Yet, it got applause. The rest of his answer was equally stupid.
Question: What do you think of Trump’s answer?
Kasich: I’d just like to spend as much time as I can brown-nosing Trump. I balanced the federal budget, and I’m an effective governor.
Question: But can you answer the question?
Kasich: Well, we all have solutions to the immigration problem.
Question: Rubio, can you answer the question?
Rubio: Most of the people coming over the border illegally aren’t even from Mexico. But we do need a fence. We also need e-verify, and entry-exit tracking systems. We also need to do something about the people who are trying to immigrate legally, but who have been caught up by the system.
Who let Kasich attend this debate? Even Pataki would have given a better answer than this. Meanwhile, Rubio hit his answer out of the park.
Question: You were for amnesty before you were against it. What other issues are you going to flip-flop on?
Walker: I’ve acknowledged that I was wrong. I learned by listening to knowledgeable people on all sides of the issue and by going down to the border and seeing for myself what was going on. We need to secure the border, enforce our laws, and put American families and wages first. No amnesty.
Given his flip-flop, this was a great answer.
Question: Will you defund sanctuary cities?
Cruz: I’ve already sponsored a bill to do just that. We need to enforce our immigration laws. Unlike some of the people on this stage I’ve never been in support of amnesty, and I led the fight against the gang of eight amnesty legislation.
Another good answer. He was a little too polite here, however, given that Rubio was a member of that gang of eight, and Trump has been in favor of amnesty as long ago as last week. Cruz should have hit a little harder.
Question: You’ve said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable. Can you really say that?
Christie: Yes, because I’ve fought terrorists, and many of my friends were killed by terrorists.
Paul: “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over!”
Christie: He’s being ridiculous. How are we supposed to know who is and isn’t a terrorist?
Paul: Get a warrant!
The whole discussion deteriorates from here on out. Paul reasonably wants the laws and the Constitution to be obeyed, while Christie keeps telling sob stories about victims of terrorism, in the end accusing Paul of making speeches just to raise money. One can’t help but think that the exchange hurt both of the men, but certainly Paul won on the merits. Why is it that Paul had to interrupt, once again, in order to speak? Since the question was about him, shouldn’t the moderator have given him a chance to respond?
Question: You asked Gen. Dempsey how he would destroy the ISIS in 90 days, but you didn’t like his answer. How would you do it?
Cruz: General Dempsey said that there was no military solution to the situation, but there is. The solution is for ISIS recruits to know that they are signing their own death warrants.
Question: You don’t see this as an ideological problem?
Cruz: Of course it is an ideological problem, which is why I’ve sponsored a bill stating that any American who goes to fight on the side of ISIS forfeits his citizenship. But we need to stop acting as apologists for these terrorists, as Obama did at the prayer breakfast.
This was a good strong answer for a crap question.
Question: To the families of those who died in the Iraq War, how do you look at them now and say that your brother’s war was a mistake?
Bush: Knowing what we know now, I wouldn’t have gone in. Obama abandoned Iraq, and this has allowed the ISIS to flourish. We need to stop the Iran agreement and we need to stop the ISIS with everything we have at out disposal.
Including ground troops? But wouldn’t this be the same thing his brother did? Don’t get me wrong: It is a great answer. But isn’t he trying to have things both ways by sounding anti-war and pro-war at the same time?
Question: You said that we need to gain partners in the Arab world. Apart from the partners we already have, who do you have in mind?
Walker: We need to focus on the partners we already have.
A trivial question with a largely uninformative response. What a waste.
Question: As president, would you bring back water boarding?
Carson: Thank you for allowing me to speak. We shouldn’t be broadcasting what we are going to do. The war on terrorism is a politically incorrect war. We shouldn’t tie our military’s hands behind its back.
A fair answer to a relatively trivial question. Why not ask him what his overall strategy would be for fighting ISIS and dealing with Iran? Water boarding is simply not a political issue in 2016.
Question: You say that you are against Obamacare, yet 15 years ago you wanted the US to have a healthcare system like that in Canada. What happened?
Trump: I was against the Iraq War. Well, the healthcare system works well in Canada and Scotland. We need private systems for each state, but insurance companies are making a fortune because they control the politicians.
Paul: The GOP has been fighting a single-payer for decade, so you’re on the wrong side of this issue.
Trump: “I don’t think you heard me.”
Did Trump answer the question? No. Meanwhile, Paul interrupted again. Being rude to his majesty is unlikely to go over well with many people.
Question: You’ve donated to a host of liberal policies and politicians, including Hillary. “You explained away those donations saying you did that to get business-related favors. And you said recently, quote, ‘When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.'”
Trump: “You’d better believe it.” I’ve paid off most of people on this stage.
Unidentified: Not me!
Unidentified: Not me!
Unidentified: You can give me money if you like!
Unidentified: I hope you give to me!
Trump: “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”
Question from unidentified candidate: “What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?”
Trump: Well, Hillary came to my wedding.
Walker: Hillary! Everything she touches turns to crap.
Actually, there was a considerable amount of crosstalk and back and forth, but the upshot is that Trump is a crook who sees nothing wrong with buying politicians, and who blames the system for his own moral lapses. Disgusting.
Question: Is the government simply too big for any one person, even a Republican, to shrink?
Huckabee: No, but the donor class has a strangle-hold over the federal government. We need to shift power back to the states, and we need to abolish the IRS. We need a consumption tax instead.
Question: Do you agree?
Carson: We need to base our tax system on tithing–everyone pays ten percent, no deductions or loopholes.
Question: Governor Bush …?
Carson: But I’m not done!
Huckabee makes some fair points, but it is not possible to have a consumption tax and still get rid of the IRS. Carson’s idea is great, as a 10% tax is something just about everyone can afford. On the other hand, the last time we saw figures, any flat tax would have to be at least 17% in order to generate the necessary revenue to keep the government going. Without a cut in the size of government, a 10% rate is a non-starter. Of course, Carson was cut off.
Question: You’re for Common Core. Would you agree that those who are against it are lunatics?
Bush: No. And I don’t believe that the federal government should be involved in education at all. School choice, vouchers, higher standards, etc.
Question: Is Bush wrong on Common Core?
Rubio: I believe in curriculum reform, but this should be done on a state level. Common Core is optional at the moment, but inevitably it will turn into a mandate.
Question: Do you agree with Rubio?
Bush: If states want to opt out of Common Core, fine.
What an incredibly stupid question, but Bush never really answers it, and never really says if he is for or against Common Core. He is trying to have it both ways. Rubio, on the other hand, gives a very thoughtful and articulate answer.
Question: Hillary says she wants to move the country forward while you, the Republicans, want to take the country back to the past. How would you answer that?
Kasich: My father was a mailman, so I know what it is like to be one of the little people. However, we need pro-growth policies, balanced budgets, etc.
Carson: Hillary is a progressive tool who thinks people are stupid. If I were wanting to destroy our country, I would advocate the same policies that Hillary has.
Both men seem earnest, but out of their depth. Hillary doesn’t play nice and she’s not in this business to make friends. They need to step up their game if they want to defeat her.
Question: You have promised four percent economic growth and 19 million new jobs as president. How will you accomplish this?
Bush: We need to lift our spirits and have higher expectations. Deregulation, simplified tax code, get rid of Obamacare, embrace the energy revolution.
Question: You’ve promised an economic plan in which everyone will earn a piece of the American dream. Given your crappy record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?
Walker: Well, I must not be doing that bad as governor, as I have been reelected twice. The unemployment rate in my state is almost half what it was when I first came to office. Meanwhile, Hillary wants to grow the economy by growing the government. Most people understand that the government does not create jobs. Repeal Obamacare and many regulations, energy policy, education, tax reform.
Both men gave good, strong policy answers.
Question: Huckabee says that we can save Social Security and Medicare without raising the retirement age and cutting benefits. What do you think?
Christie: No, Huckabee is simply wrong. We have to raise the retirement age by two years, and means-test Social Security so that wealthy people don’t receive it.
Huckabee: The money for the Social Security benefit was money paid into the system by people who have worked all these years, and they are not the one’s responsible for the government screwing things up. We shouldn’t be stealing from people by cutting their benefits.
Christie: The money is already stolen–the trust fund is full of IOUs. We have to fix the system because it is broken.
Huckabee: The reason there’s no money for Social Security is that there is no money coming in. Only wage earners pay into it. A consumption tax is the answer because “money paid in consumption is paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.”
This is just a summary–Christie was actually quite detailed and specific in his plans. Anyone following the Social Security issue closely would know that Christie gets the better part of the argument here. Huckabee comes across as ill-informed and more than a little wacky. At the same time, many voters are just as ill-informed as Huckabee, and actually believe that their Social Security benefits are paid using money previously withheld from their paychecks when they were wage earners. (That has never been true–people on average have always received much more money from Social Security than they originally paid in, and in fact Social Security payments have always come, not from the trust fund, but from current withholdings. The reason the system stayed solvent in the past was in large part because there were more people working and paying into the system than people receiving benefits. However, this is no longer the case.)
Question: You’ve gone bankrupt four times. Why should anyone trust you with our nation’s finances?
Trump: I’ve never personally gone bankrupt.
Question: But your companies have.
Trump: On four occasions I’ve taken advantage of the laws of this country. Everyone does it. I’m worth over $10 billion dollars. I’m great.
Question: Trump Entertainment Resorts went bankrupt in 2009, “lenders to your company lost over $1 billion and more than 1,100 people were laid off.”
Trump: My lenders “are total killers.” Screw ’em. Every company in Atlantic City goes bankrupt. “And by the way, this country right now owes $19 trillion. And they need somebody like me to straighten out that mess.”
By declaring bankruptcy? Is this what he plans for the US government? With all due respect, Trump is completely amoral, and proudly so. How would this be an improvement over Hillary Clinton?
Question: “Please describe one action you would do to make the economic environment more favorable for small businesses and entrepreneurs and anyone dreaming of opening their own business.”
Rubio: Tax reform, deregulation, get rid of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.
A solidly wonkish response.
Question: “You’ve said that you would tear up the Iran deal on day one. If this deal is undone, what then?”
Walker: Iran is not a country we should be doing business with. We need to re-institute sanctions.
Paul: I would try to negotiate from strength and get a better deal.
Huckabee: We got nothing from this deal. Obama is just a bad president, and the Iranians are bad people.
So Paul would not re-institute sanctions and would negotiate with Iran, and Huckabee doesn’t have a plan. Advantage Walker.
Question: You favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Don’t you care at all about the unborn?
Rubio: That is a misstatement of my record. I have advocated a law that would protect life at every stage of development, but we actually already have such a law–the Constitution.
Question: “Mr. Trump, in 1999, you said you were, quote, ‘very pro- choice.’ Even supporting partial-birth abortion. You favored an assault weapons ban as well. In 2004, you said in most cases you identified as a Democrat. Even in this campaign, your critics say you often sound more like a Democrat than a Republican, calling several of your opponents on the stage things like clowns and puppets. When did you actually become a Republican?”
Trump: I’ve evolved, just like Ronald Reagan evolved. But I’ve always been pro-life, and you know New York is almost completely Democrat, and “I have a lot of liking for this man, but the last number of months of his brother’s administration were a catastrophe. And unfortunately, those few months gave us President Obama. And you can’t be happy about that.”
The section in quotation marks is a direct quote. I’ve no idea who he is talking about at the end. The transcript says that the audience applauded after this statement. It can only be because they hate the press, and are giving Trump a pass on every nonsensical statement he makes.
Question: “An anonymous GOP donor who said you called Mr. Trump a clown, a buffoon, something else that cannot be repeated on television.”
Bush: Untrue. I said his language was divisive. We need to get past the divisiveness of people like Obama and Hillary. Many people are suffering in America, and we need to give them hope by creating an environment where everyone rises up.
Trump: Of course my tone is harsh, when people are cutting Christian’s heads off and people are going all medieval.
A trivial question of there ever was one. Note the pandering in Trump’s response: He has never expressed any concern for Christians getting their heads cut off before.
Question: How would you explain your opposition to homosexual marriage to your child if he or she were a homosexual?
Kasich: I’m an old-fashioned person, but the court has ruled that homosexual marriage is the law of the land, and so we should accept it. And I will love my daughters no matter what they do.
So much for his social conservative credibility.
Question: “What will you do to ensure Christians are not prosecuted for speaking out against gay marriage and will Christians be forced to conduct business that conflicts with their religious beliefs?”
Paul: The government should not interfere with people’s religious beliefs or practices.
A nice sentiment, but what would Paul do to ensure Christians are not prosecuted for speaking out against gay marriage? He did not help himself with his answer.
Question: Many people believe that overly-aggressive police officers targeting young African Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. Do you agree?
Walker: Police need better training.
Walker went on at length about the need for better training, but never really answered the question. On the other hand, the question wasn’t all that good.
Question: A top Iranian general traveling to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’s blamed for hundreds of U.S. troops death in Iraq, and Afghanistan. His trip to Russia appears to directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions to confine him to Iran. How would you respond to this?
Trump: The whole thing that Obama is doing with Iran is a disgrace.
Question: In your view, have Russia and China committed of cyber war, and if you were president, what would you do about it?
Cruz: Of course they have. And this Iranian general, he’s a bad dude.
Question: Would you have used military force on Assad after he crossed the red line and used chemical weapons on his won people?
Carson: Our military is at its weakest state in years, and this limits our options. Our friends can’t trust us anymore. We’ve turned our back on Israel.
Question: What would you do if Russian President Vladimir Putin started a campaign to destabilize NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, mirroring the actions Putin took at the early days of Ukraine.
Walker: That cyber attack by Russia the other day was terrible! I would send weapons to the Ukraine, I would put NATO on the borders, and I would reinstate our missile defense system with the Poles and the Czechs.
Walker was the only one to actually answer his question, and his answer was quite good.
Question: The US military is preparing to let transgender people serve openly. What are your thoughts?
Huckabee: The military is not a place for social experiments–it’s there to protect our country. However, it is being destroyed under the Obama administration, and it has forgotten its mission.
This was Huckabee’s best answer all night.
Question: The first budget your proposed as senator cut all financial aid to Israel. You have since changed your view on that issue. What made you change your mind?
Paul: I’m the only one who has even had a budget. “But even Benjamin Netanyahu said that ultimately, they will be stronger when they’re independent. My position is exactly the same.” We should not be borrowing money from China to send to other countries. We cannot give money away that we do not have.
Christie: We should be strengthening our military, and while we shouldn’t be giving aid to our enemies, we certainly should be doing what we can to fund Israel.
So, Paul is not in favor of giving aid to Israel after all. This is just a rehash of his father’s talking point–that Israel would actually be stronger without US aid, and so aid to Israel should be cut. This talking point makes no more sense coming from Rand than it did from Ron.
Question: Have any of you received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first?
Cruz: God speaks to me through his Scriptures. My father was an alcoholic, and God turned my his life around. Scripture says that we will know people by their fruits, and we see a lot of “campaign conservatives”, but if we are going to win we need a real conservative who is willing to fight for liberty.
Kasich: My father was a mailman. I do believe in miracles. But elections are not about campaigns, they are about movements. God wants America to succeed.
Walker: I’m not perfect, but Christ has redeemed me of my sins. God calls us to follow his will, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I want to live as a testimony to him.
Question: Talk about your relation to God, and veterans.
Rubio: God has blessed our country. We are all so blessed. We need to do more for the people in uniform and clean up this VA mess.
Question: Talk about your relation to God, and race relations.
Carson: We need to heal the divide. Our skin color doesn’t make us who we are. “Our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states.”
Afterwards come to closing statements, which are boilerplate and will not be repeated here.