2015 Boulder GOP Main Event Debate Recap

The October 28, 2015 CNBC GOP debate was held at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The moderators were Becky Quick, Carl Quintanilla, and John Harwood.  Debate participants were Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz,  John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, and Carly Fiorina.

Overall, the moderators were hostile and argumentative. They weren’t really trying to moderate a debate. Rather, they were seeking to hang some Republican hide on the wall. Given how Americans tend to side with whichever party seems to be under attack, this strategy certainly backfired. While it may have won plaudits from the moderators’ liberal friends, it will only make the press and CNBC more hated by the public at large.

The clear winner of this debate was Rubio. He had several great moments, and was unscathed by the attacks launched against him. Christie also gave a very good debate performance, but should be running for Attorney General rather than president–I just really doubt that his debate helped him with the grassroots who distrust him. Cruz had his best debate thus far. He did well in the first debate, but was overshadowed by Trump (despite Trump’s piss-poor performance). Cruz seemed to sleep through the second debate. Here, he was comfortable and passionate. Fiorina stayed in the mix, as did Carson. Neither was hurt by this debate, and both may well have been helped. Paul and Bush showed up. While there was nothing especially wrong with most of their answers, neither helped themselves at all, and Bush’s willingness even to answer the fantasy football question to begin with–not to mention his desire to regulate it–should end his political aspirations. Christie was right to be both incredulous and indignant that the question was asked in the first place. Kasich thought that yelling would improve his performance, but it just made him more painful to listen to. Huckabee seemed like he was in the race because he wants to be the Surgeon General in the Trump administration. Nothing Trump said was true, or even made a lick of sense. He should be very happy that he wasn’t asked many questions or given much opportunity to talk, as it was to his advantage.


The recap:

Question: What’s your biggest weakness?
Kasich, Christie, and Paul wouldn’t–or couldn’t–answer this question. However, in terms of soundbites, Christie hit it out of the park:

“Where I see the weakness in those three people that are left on the Democratic stage, you know, I see a socialist, an isolationist, and a pessimist. And for the sake of me, I can’t figure out which one is which.”

The other two came across as boring and tedious.
Huckabee: tries to play by the rules.
Bush: impatience, can’t fake anger.
Rubio: optimistic.
Trump: too trusting, unforgiving.
Carson: didn’t believe enough in his ability to be president.
Fiorina: doesn’t smile enough.
Cruz: a fighter, passionate in what he believes.

Question to Trump: Is your’s a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
Trump got tiffed and accused the moderator of being mean, then went to his talking points. He gave the Great Wall of China as an example of what a country can do to stop illegal immigration. Of course, the wall was built to keep out armed invaders, and failed miserably in that regard. “Mexico is going to pay for the wall, because the Mexicans are smarter than we are.” The moderators and then Bush got into it with Trump on his tax plan, resulting in a lot of cross talk and then a cut microphone for Bush.

Question to Carson: Your 10% tax plan makes no sense as it leads to a huge government deficit.
Carson said that he used the tithing analogy, but that the rate would be closer to 15% (he’s finally done his homework). He would balance the budget by getting rid of all deductions and loopholes, and by cutting spending to downsize the government.

Question to Kasich: What do you really think of Trump and Carson?
Kasich said that Carson was living in a fantasy world when it comes to balancing the budget. He then recited his resume in Washington and in Ohio, hit Trump on immigration, and yelled a lot. Trump was given a chance to respond, and said that Ohio does well because of fracking. He then went on to blame Kasich for the Lehman Brothers debacle. Kasich denied ever being on the board for Lehman Brothers. Carson defended his budget plans, saying that the 15% would apply to corporate taxes and capital gains as well. Cruz then touted his flat tax plan with detailed facts and figures. Fiorina then broke in and said that tax reform never happens because there isn’t a leader in Washington who knows how to get things done. She would reduce the tax code to three pages, and get rid of all the loopholes and deductions.

Question to Rubio: You are skipping a lot of votes. Maybe you should slow down and do your job rather than run for president.
Rubio noted that there is no more time to wait–there needs to be leadership now. The moderator pointed out that Sun-Sentinel had called on Rubio to resign because he was missing so many senate votes. Rubio’s response was priceless:

RUBIO: Let me say, I read that editorial today with a great amusement. It’s actually evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.
QUINTANILLA: Do you hate your job?
RUBIO: Let me answer your question on the Sun-Sentinel editorial today. Back in 2004, one of my predecessors to the senate by the name of Bob Graham, a Democrat, ran for President, missing over 30 percent of his votes. I don’t recall them calling for his resignation.
Later that year, in 2004, John Kerry ran for President, missing close to 60 to 70 percent of his votes. I don’t recall the Sun — in fact, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed him. In 2008, Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes, and the same newspaper endorsed him again.
So this is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative –

The audience went wild. Bush then went after Rubio for not showing up for work. Rubio parried this attack admirably. Trump tried to break in, but the moderators would have none of it.

Question for Bush: Ben Bernanke said that the GOP has given in to no-nothingism. Is that why your campaign is struggling?
Bush spoke at length about hope and optimism, spouting off facts and figures, but to no great point or effect. Trump tried to break in again, and was thwarted.

Question for Fiorina: You really failed as head of HP, costing stockholders millions, and were fired by your board. Why should you be hired as president?
Fiorina gave as good of as a defense of her tenure as she could have, noting that the man who led her firing has since said that he was wrong to fire her, that she was a great leader at HP, and that she would make a good president.

Question for Cruz: Does your opposition to the new budget deal show that you are not the kind of problem solver that Americans want?
Cruz noted that the questions asked thus far in the debate show why the American public doesn’t trust the media:

This is not a cage match. And if you look at the questions: Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?
How about talking about the substantive issues … and, Carl, I’m not finished yet. The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, Which of you is more handsome and wise?

The moderators then cut Cruz off and refused to let him answer the question that was asked, saying that the time limit had expired.

Question for Paul: Do you oppose the budget deal because it does not cut entitlement spending enough? (Subtext: You’re a heartless bastard who hates the elderly and poor people, aren’t you?)
Paul said that the money wasn’t going for entitlements anyways but was used on other things such as defense, and then he went after an “unholy alliance between right and left” to spend the US into oblivion.

Question for Christie: Entitlement spending is a compact between the people and the American government, yet you want to cut it. When it is it acceptable to break a compact with the American people?
Christie pointed out that the compact had already been broken long ago–the Social Security trust fund is full of IOUs, and the government will soon no longer be able to pay Social Security benefits, and knows it. He wants to lower entitlement spending to deal with the issue, rather than raising Social Security taxes as Hillary Clinton advocates.

Question for Huckabee: What do you think of Christie’s plan?
Huckabee demagogued about how Social Security payments are “our money”, arguing that the money received in Social Security payments comes from Social Security withholding taxes. This is not true and has not been true for a long time–the money an individual typically pays into Social Security is a fraction of the money received in payments. Social Security is not a pension fund, as Huckabee holds, and was never meant to be one. Since Social Security pays out more than people put in, why shouldn’t payments be cut for people who are wealthy and don’t need the money? This is one of the points that Christie has been making, and that Huckabee fails to acknowledge or address. Christie was given a chance to respond, and stressed that we need to start telling the people the truth–the program is broken and needs to be fixed. Cruz advocated making no changes to Social Security for older people, but to raise the retirement age and allow young people to put some of their money into personal retirement accounts.

Question for Trump: Your hotels and casinos declared bankruptcy four times, leaving bondholders and other parties up a creek. Bankruptcy is a broken promise. Why should we believe any promise you make?
Trump claims that everyone uses bankruptcy laws for their benefit, so it is just good business practice, and that Atlantic City is just a bad place to do business. He then offered that going bankrupt proves he knows how to handle debt and can solve the US budget problem.

Question for Carson: Have drug companies gone too far in their profiteering, and should the government be involved in holding down drug prices?
Carson avoided answering the question directly, but wants get rid of many government regulations.

Question for Christie: Should corporations who do wrong face criminal prosecution?
Christie: You bet. However, the Justice Department has been politicized and is no longer doing its job. He then pivoted to the question Carson was asked, and answered it by noting that the government screws up everything it touches, so why would it be a good idea for the drug companies to face further regulations and price controls? He would enforce the laws currently on the books, criminally prosecuting corporate offenders when necessary.

Question for Bush: Would you still accept a budget deal that raised taxes even if it had spending cuts ten times as large?
Bush essentially answered yes, but then noted that as governor he cut taxes every year, and cut spending. He said that no one in Washington really wants to cut spending, especially the Democrats: “You find a Democrat that’s for cutting taxes — cutting spending ten dollars, I’ll give them a warm kiss.”

Question for Fiorina: Years ago, you called an Internet sales tax a bad deal. Now that the Internet has matured, shouldn’t we have an Internet sales tax to “even the playing field”?
Fiorina began expounding on crony capitalism: “Government causes a problem, and then steps in to solve the problem.” She linked all of this to the push to regulate and tax the Internet. In her view, the only way to level the playing field is by reducing government regulations, because government regulations tend to support the big and powerful and hurt the small and powerless.

Question for Rubio: You can’t even manage your own personal finances, so how can you possibly manage US government finances or the US economy?
Rubio pointed out that the moderator was just reciting discredited Democratic talking points and it was a waste of time to even respond to them. He noted that he grew up poor, and has worked hard his whole life to support his family, and he has been able to send his kids to college. He then pivoted to the economy and wage earners, and the problems they are having.

Question for Kasich: Aren’t you in love with corporate welfare?
Kasich said that corporate welfare was bad, apparently except in his state. He then pivoted to his experience in Washington DC in balancing the budget.

Question for Cruz: What would you do to help working women?
Cruz said that he would grow the economy and that would help women. He then talked about his mother trying to raise him as a single mother before his father turned to Jesus and came home. Finally, he hit the Democrats on how their policies have hurt working people in general, including women. Fiorina then broke in to attack Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, given that all of their policies hurt women.

Question for Carson: You are on the board to Costco, yet it is gay friendly. How can you do this, given your views on homosexuals?
Carson pointed out that the moderator was misrepresenting his views. He believes that the Constitution  protects everyone–including homosexuals–but that marriage is between one man and one woman. Just because he wants to protect the definition of marriage does not mean that he is a homophobe or hates homosexuals.

Question for Carson: You have been related to Mannatech, which makes fraudulent claims for its nutritional products. Why?
Carson said that it was a lie. He did a couple of paid speeches for them, and that was as far as his involvement went. The crowd was almost to the point of marching on the moderators with pitchforks before this line of questioning was finished.

Question for Rubio: You’re in support of increasing the number of H1B visas, but doesn’t this hurt American workers?
Rubio wants not just to increase the number of H1B visas, but change the way that program is administered so that it would be harder to abuse the system and take away a jobs from qualified Americans. He also supports vocational training for Americans, so that they would be better qualified to work in the high-tech industry.

Question for Trump: You’ve been very critical of Mark Zuckerberg because he was in favor of expanding the H1B visa program …
Trump said that was untrue (he lied), and said that he himself was in favor of expanding the H1B program. He then claimed that he his campaign was entirely self-funding (another lie), unlike any of the other campaigns. He then began to rail against super PACs.

Question for Trump: You called Mark Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal secretary” …
Trump: That’s a lie. (Actually, this statement was taken from his immigration proposal.) Rubio then went after the mainstream media for their false reporting, likening them to a super PAC for the Democrats, especially in their recent reporting of the Benghazi hearings wherein Hillary Clinton was caught in multiple lies.

Question for Cruz: You don’t like the Federal Reserve, so what would you do about it?
Cruz wants to audit the Fed, and then return some of the power of the Fed to congress. He argues that the Fed should be focused on sound monetary policy rather than quantitative easing, which only benefits Wall Street and not wage earners. Paul then piled on with the idea of auditing the Fed, and talked about how evil the Fed was. If you are inclined to support Paul’s ideas, Cruz stole nearly all his thunder in this exchange.

Question for Carson: You are against government subsidies, yet you are in favor of taking oil subsidies and putting them towards ethanol processing …
Carson: I was wrong. We need to get the government out of our lives. Regulations have a cost, and that cost is passed on to the poor and the middle class.

Question for Huckabee: What would you do to force companies to lessen income inequality?
Huckabee says that the government shouldn’t be ordering people to do anything, and that is part of the problem. The government shouldn’t be choosing winners and losers. He then advocated the government waging a war on diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Question for Bush: Why would you tax the income from labor more than the income from investments?
Bush claimed that most middle or lower-income Americans would end up paying no taxes at all under his program.

Question for Rubio: Your tax plan would benefit the upper 1% more than lower income people, yet you claim to be the champion of the working class.
Rubio flatly denied this characterization of his tax plan.  The moderator then tried to interrupt and contradict Rubio’s claims. Rubio: “You wrote a story on it, and you had to go back and correct it.” This was denied by the moderator, even though Rubo was correct and the moderator was lying:

Paul begged for a chance to talk about his tax plan, which cuts the payroll tax as well as income taxes. Cruz then joined in and said that his tax plan was better, and that he wanted to eliminate the IRS. Cruz stole Paul’s thunder once again.

Question for Kasich: Shouldn’t marijuana be legalized and taxed to help pay for government deficits?
Kasich then railed against drug abuse, to which Roger Stone replied on Twitter:

Kasich then turned to the issue of income inequality, and began yelling once again.

Question for Trump: During the break, I found where I read the quote about Rubio being Mark Zuckerberg’s personal secretary–it was from your website. You then railed against H1B visas. So what is your position?
Trump says he is now in favor of importing workers legally. Rubio wants to reform the immigration system so that it is merit-based, and stressed that one criteria for admission should be that someone wants to be an American, and not just live in America.

Question for Trump: Would you feel more comfortable if your employees brought guns to work?
Trump said yes. He noted that he has a gun permit, and that he does carry sometimes–or a lot. Trump probably helped himself with this answer, until you consider that he is armed and deranged.

Question for Huckabee: Does Trump have the moral authority to be president?
Huckabee professed his love for Trump. He then went on to wax eloquent about what a great president Trump would be. Finally, he talked about how–unlike the other candidates–he has fought the Clinton machine for over 20 years, and won. He did not specify on what planet this occurred. Christie then jumped in and talked about Obama’s lack of support for police officers.

Question for Fiorina: Should the federal government play a larger role in helping workers set up retirement plans?
Fiorina answered no, because the government just makes things worse and not better. She went on to point out that small businesses are being crushed by Obamacare and federal regulations.

Question for Kasich: What will you do to help people with their student loans?
Kasich then got very angry when he talked about the high costs of universities, and then said something about public service. Frankly, it was hard to continue to listen to him, and quite puzzling that he is being asked so many questions given his growing irrelevancy to the presidential race. Bush broke in and said that we don’t need to get the federal government involved in the problem–that this should be something solved on the state level.

Question for Bush: Should fantasy sports be treated as gambling?
Bush would regulate fantasy sports. And thus he flushed his presidential aspirations down the drain. Christie (incredulously):

Are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football?We have — wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?


Question for Christie: You believe in climate change, so what do we do to deal with it?
Christie wants private investment in all kinds of energy.

Question for Paul: Was Reagan right for opposing Medicare in the 1960s?
Paul went on and on about how the government doesn’t solve anything, and then added this jewel:

When people ask me, whose fault is it? Whose fault is it that Medicare is broken, out of money, that Social Security is broken, out of money? And I say, look, it’s not Republicans’ fault, it’s not Democrats’ fault, it’s your grandparents’ fault for having too many damn kids.

This is not the kind of statement that a serious presidential candidate would ever make. He then went on to say that unless the age is raised Medicare and Social Security cannot be fixed. Curiously, Huckabee was given a chance to respond to Paul. He then went on to advocate declaring war on the four big health diseases that cost money. Bush then broke in and said that we need to reform Medicare and Social Security.

Question for Trump: You said that you would grow the economy so much that Social Security and Medicare don’t have to be touched. Do you want to explain how that is going to happen?
Trump talked about bringing jobs back from Japan (these jobs are non-existent), from China (these would be low-wage, unskilled manufacturing jobs), from Mexico (if there is so many good jobs in Mexico, why are so many Mexicans fleeing to America?), and that he was going to cut costs. He could not explain how he would do any of this, but it really doesn’t matter at this point. Bush then said that he would reform Social Security by making it means testing, and that we should “incent” private savings. Kasich then started talking about Ohio again. Paul said that we have to raise the age and means test benefits. It seemed like Paul was bored and his mind was wandering.

Question for Carson: You want to replace Medicare with family savings accounts. How does that work?
Carson said that he wasn’t talking about replacing Medicare, but giving people the option to have these accounts. Christie agreed with Carson that we shouldn’t be sending more money to Washington, but doesn’t necessarily agree with Carson’s ideas on savings accounts. Rubio added that when he talks about reforms, he is not talking about anything that would hurt current retirees: “I am against anything that would hurt my mother.” Fiorina advocated going to zero-based budgeting.

The closing statements were all mini-stump speeches, and were thus pretty much big yawns. Fiorina made the most of it by saying that everyone in the heart of hearts would love to see her debate Hillary Clinton (true). Carson got some applause. Trump said that the fact that the debate was limited to two hours proved that he was a great leader and shrewd negotiator. Everyone else just droned on, expecting–but not really receiving–much acknowledgment from the audience.

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