At around 10pm UK-time the first debate between US Presidential Candidates took place in Cleveland, Ohio. The debate was a Republican Primary debate with GOP candidates standing alongside fellow Republicans, each vying to be the nominee in the 2016 Presidential Election. The debate format has already been hotly contested by many of the Presidential candidates as this first debate was between seven candidates that Fox News decided were polling worst in national polls, that at this point are mostly influenced by name recognition.
This first debate, pejoratively referred to as the Kids’ Table Debate, touched on a broad range of issues but also revealed some stunning stupidity and ignorance of how the US Government actually functions. Apologies in advance if the article gets too formulaic and long-winded but I’d like to comb through the substance of the debate, including pointing out any glaring factual inaccuracies.
To kick things off I’m going start with former Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who has already broken a record by entering the race for being the first candidate ever to run for the presidency whilst simultaneously being indicted by a Grand Jury; although the second charge of coercing a public servant has been overruled, because the law Perry had been accused of breaking has been declared unconstitutional, the first charge is for abuse of power, which is a felony, and could see Governor Perry put in prison for between 5 and 99 years, thus making the first State of the Union address to Congress of a Perry Presidency the first to be done via Skype.
On the actual substance of what he said, Perry began by touting his record as a competent governor by stating that 1.5 million jobs were created in Texas whilst he was governor whilst emphasising that it was at a time when the rest of the country was in recession; he shouldn’t shout too loudly as the economic policies he supports are the same deregulation that caused the Global Financial Crisis.
Perry’s next speaking opportunity was a jab at Donald Trump by asking whether someone can run for the Republican nomination who used to support single-payer healthcare. On immigration Perry refused to answer the question about the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States and stressed that the first priority would be to secure the US-Mexican border with personnel, fencing and drones.
Perry was then asked by the moderator Martha MacCullum about the recently negotiated Iranian Nuclear Deal. Before getting to what Perry said its important to point out the MacCullum’s question said that detractors of the deal say that the money that Iran shall receive as part of the deal, which was previously frozen, will fund terrorist groups like Hamas; the correct thing to say would be that Iran has links to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, not Hamas which is are Sunni extremists, and Iran are a Shia regime. On the deal itself Perry stated that coalitions in the Middle East are necessary and that if he were president he would cut the funds going to Iran, which seemed to imply that he thinks that the US id giving American tax-dollars to the Iranian government and that the US President could stop that; unsurprisingly he said he would tear up the deal, but provided no alternative.
Each of the candidates were asked to describe Hillary Clinton which Perry quipped as “good at email”, in reference to the news story that Clinton used a private email address whilst she was Secretary of State, and is now releasing those private emails for the public record. Before this joke Perry was asked about the Executive Orders he would do as president, which he said would be to secure the border, tear up the Iran deal and repeal Obama’s Executive Orders.
Next we have former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina, who is acting as this election’s token Republican woman that has no hope of being elected, in order to prove that the GOP doesn’t hate half the population. The first thing that Fiorina said could be seen as a slight dig a Fox News themselves by making the comparison between her current position as a ‘long-shot’ to the fortunes of other ‘long-shots’ like Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Fiorina also followed up with criticism of Trump by rhetorically asking the other candidates whether they had received a call from Bill Clinton before announcing their presidential runs before questioning what Trump actually believes.
When talking about ISIS, she spoke about the need to tear down the cyber-walls of China and Russia as well as making private companies work more directly with federal agencies like the CIA and FBI in order to prevent domestic terrorism. Also on foreign affairs Fiorina said that on her first day in office she would ring her “friend” Benjamin Netanyahu to give him the US’ support and would also ring the Grand Ayatollah of Iran stating that Israel had the US’ support. She also accused Obama of “[breaking] every rule of negotiating” in reference to the Iran deal; my riposte would be that the Iran deal was negotiated behind closed doors so would immediately question the basis of that assertion.
Fiorina then laid out her priorities in terms of Executive Orders: she would repeal Obama’s Order on undocumented immigrants and remove EPA regulations, because being able to breath is overrated. She then finished her remarks by claiming that the 2016 election was about an ideological fight between conservatism and progressivism, with the same standard Republican talking points being trotted out; she described America as a “unique nation”, seeming to allude to American Exceptionalism, and the usual spiel about how the ‘ballooning’ federal government was constraining entrepreneurship.
She finished by describing Clinton as “not trustworthy” with “no accomplishment”; I’m not exactly a fan of Hillary Clinton but I thought that saying she has no accomplishments at all is false (the Clinton Initiative works in 180 countries and helps 400 million people directly and indirectly…for example).
Next up is my personal favourite former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, not because of his inability to understand how the United States government works, but because I’m am pro-LGBT rights and our progress makes him squirm. Santorum is framing himself as this blue-collar conservative standing up to corporate America, despite the fact that the policies he calls for during the debate that I’ll touch on actually benefit corporate America.
He also identified that people were sick of the Democrats who were interested in politics and power; to his credit the Democrats are interested in politics and power. Why? Because they are a political party; their raison d’etre is politics and governing the country, and the only way to govern the country is to have power; it is also important to point out that the GOP also want political power, hence having debates for presidential candidates.
On immigration Santorum was asked whether he was content with separating children of undocumented immigrants, who were born in America, from their parents. His response was that his grandfather moved to America and couldn’t take Santorum’s dad with him, leaving him behind in Mussolini’s Italy; Santorum said that his dad said that America was “worth the wait”. Even if that story is true, the conclusion drawn from it is moronic- my dad was separated from my grandfather and had to live under a fascist leader, therefore I’m fine with sending people in America illegally back to their country of origin, leaving their children in America to suffer as a consequence.
On the economy Santorum tried to speak in the language of the blue-collar worker by insisting that good paying manufacturing jobs are the future of the American middle-class. At last we have common ground. How would he achieve it? Limiting welfare and a flat corporate tax of 20%. That is a massive give-away to corporate America and restricting welfare won’t increase the number of manufacturing jobs. When I say that I want more well-paying manufacturing jobs in Britain, I tend to talk about improving state education and strengthening unions, but I suspect this wouldn’t be popular with Mr Santorum.
As I said I love listening to Rick Santorum speak, because as well as pretending to care about workers, he’s an unabashed culture warrior obsessed with social issues that wants restore the wholesome, traditional American values of forcing rape victims to carry the rapist’s baby to term (because abortion’s illegal) and systemic homophobia. This was beautifully explained in his statements about the Supreme Court, in which he compared the recent same-sex marriage ruling to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sandford case, which stated that African-Americans, whether slaves or free, couldn’t be American citizens.
In addition to this he said that Congress is a co-equal branch of the federal government, which is true, and that they also can have a view on what is constitutional or not, which is also true. The part that Santorum doesn’t seem to understand is Congress can have a view on what is constitutional, but that after the 1803 Marbury vs. Madison case, the Supreme Court had a precedent to determine the constitutional validity of Congressional bills. In this landmark case Chief Justice Marshall wrote that “a law repugnant to the constitution is void”, therefore stating that if Congress passes a law and the President signs it, but is unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter. In terms of legal precedents the 1958 Cooper vs Aaron case reaffirmed the supremacy of the federal judiciary in this area in the well known maxim: “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution”.
When talking about potential Executive Orders Santorum wants to repeal every single Executive Order of President Obama’s, repeal every single regulation (which, if passed by Congress, would be unconstitutional), and ended by championing a ‘religious liberty’ bill currently in Congress, and saying that if the bill was vetoed by Obama, he would do it by Executive Order. Wrong again, Rick. Executive Orders impact upon the operations of the federal government and apply to federal officials; the president cannot enact legislation by Executive Order because, by definition, legislation must come from the Legislature (i.e. Congress), which he should know being a former Senator.
His final contribution was labelling Clinton as “secretive and untrustworthy”.
The next candidate is another one making history: Bobby Jindal, the current Governor of Louisiana and the first Indian-American presidential candidate. The first question was about electability and the questioner pointed out that the Governor has current approval ratings in the mid-30s, and that, in the solidly red-state of Louisiana, he would lose in a straight fight against Hillary Clinton; he responded by saying that he’s won two elections, cut the state’s budget by 26%, cut 30,000 state employees and that the Iran deal was bad. I’m not sure how the Iran deal has anything to do with his unpopularity but nevermind.
Jindal’s approach to ISIS was “to call ISIS what it is… which is radical Islamic terrorism”, and he criticized President Obama for not doing this; President Obama has spoken about this by saying that he doesn’t wish to give ISIS religious legitimacy by using that phrase and that his choice of words is to stress that the US is not at war with the Islamic religion. Whether you agree with the rationale or not is another question but he has stated that the US is at war with people who have “perverted Islam”. Other than this change in semantics Jindal offered no other practical policies.
The Louisiana Governor’s next topic was on the Affordable Care Act, which he characterised as “Obama and Clinton turning the American Dream into the European nightmare”. He stated that Obama and Clinton were socialists like Bernie Sanders (who is actually more of a social democrat), that Obama was spending money recklessly (even though he has to implement the Budget, which was approved by Congress, in full by law) and said that Medicaid shouldn’t be expanded whilst citing the ‘Oregon Study’. What Jindal is referring to is the ‘Oregon Medicaid Health Experiment’ which looked at the impact of the 2008 Medicaid expansion in Oregon; he is correct that the study showed no statistical impact on physical health measures but the report also stated that “it did increase use of healthcare services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain”.
In response to the recently released doctored footage regarding practices at Planned Parenthood, Jindal said that if elected he would send the DoJ, the IRS and all other relevant agencies to investigate, defund the agency and said that Obama shouldn’t shut down the government in order to send money to Planned Parenthood. I would argue the opposite; if Congress votes to defund Planned Parenthood, Obama proceeds to veto the bill, and Congress cannot get the votes to override the veto, that’s not the President shutting down the government, its him exercising executive authority, authority given to him in the Constitution. If the Republican dominated Congress then decides to add a rider to the Budget that made defunding Planned Parenthood non-negotiable, then the intransigence of the Republicans would shut down the government, not Obama refusing to do something that he has already vetoed.
On Executive Orders Jindal said that he would repeal Obama’s action on undocumented immigrants, challenge the existence of sanctuary cities, stop the IRS targeting conservative or religious groups (even though they aren’t), protect Christians’ ability to discriminate against gay people (which is unconstitutional), and to repeal Obamacare (which is also unconstitutional). When asked for words he associates with Hillary Clinton he said: “socialist” and “government dependency”. I haven’t got time to point out how incorrect calling Clinton a socialist is, so, as Clinton is notoriously a corporatist Democrat, I would ask the Governor what he thinks socialism is?
Well-known Neo-conservative war-hawk Lindsey Graham began by speaking about US energy policy, with a priority of his presidency being to achieve energy independence, even if that results in greater consumption of fossil fuels. He also launched an attack on Hillary Clinton arguing that “cap and trade will dominate climate policy which will destroy the economy”. He then went on to discuss his policy on ISIS which, unsurprisingly, was to have ground troops deployed in Iraq and Syria.
On the economy Senator Graham said he would do something about Dodd-Frank, which instituted some modest Wall Street refoms, repeal Obamacare, which I’ve already pointed out he can’t do and supports the Keystone XL pipeline. He also asserted that the economy cannot grow without changing Obama’s policies, despite the fact that recent figures show the US economy growing modestly by 2.6% annually. And being Lindsey Graham he also mentioned ISIS at the end for some reason.
His next line of argument was on abortion, which is still an issue in American politics apparently, and Senator Graham said that he was pro-life and that the money that currently goes to Planned Parenthood should be reallocated to fund other women’s health programmes. And no word of a lie, he then said that the real ‘war on women’ was in Iraq and Syria so the US should send soldiers; I don’t know why he kept mentioning it either.
In terms of Executive Orders he said he would restore the funding of the NSA, which would require Congressional approval because its a budgetary issue and could be contested as many people believe to have violated the Fourth Amendment, and prevent public funding of abortions. Hillary Clinton was described by Graham as “not the change we need at a time we need it”.
The penultimate candidate was the former Governor of New York George Pataki who became instantly untrustworthy by virtue of Fox News TV graphics. Governor Pataki said that “having been in the private sector for the last eight years, I’ve seen government from the outside…[we need] someone who isn’t a career politician”, however at the same time Fox News was going through his history of public service: elected Mayor of Peekskill (1981-1983), elected to the New York State Assembly (1984-1994), elected Governor of New York (1995-2005) and now running for President. I would say that being a politician for twenty-five consecutive years would make you a career politician.
When talking about ISIS he wanted to see more done to dismantle the recruitment of young Americans and also pointed out that as the Governor of New York during 9/11 he was unique among the candidates in knowing how to combat terrorism, even though the modern scenario of fighting ISIS is very different to fighting against al-Qaeda.
On healthcare the former governor said that states shouldn’t expand Medicaid, he would try to repeal Obamacare, and would “replace dependency with opportunity”, which presumably means some form of pro-capitalist policy of private medical insurance. On abortion he said he would defund Planned Parenthood, despite being pro-choice, because he believes in science; admittedly he does believe in global warming and evolution unlike some of his Republican colleagues, but I would question how pro-choice he is when his grounds for defunding Planned Parenthood are based on an edited video.
When asked about Executive Orders he would repeal all of Obama’s, institute a hiring freeze on all federal employees that weren’t related to defence, and finished by talking about how when he was governor he reduced the workforce; to be honest the last point could have been phrased better because, although I’m aware he wanted to show him cutting government bureaucracy, it came across in him revelling in making people unemployed. His final contribution of note was describing Clinton as “with no vision”.
The final candidate on my list is was also the final candidate to declare their candidacy, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. His first comments are very vague and abstract by asserting, without evidence, that “Obama/Clinton policies are resulting in the decline of America”; that’s not true in economic or foreign policy terms so I’m not sure what such a grandiose statement means.
On ISIS he called for a “long war” to combat the “international guerilla movement”. However the point he made previously literally made me laugh out loud; the reason that Governor Pataki mentioned that he was governor during 9/11 was because it the attack hit New York state hardest. Governor Gilmore also pointed out that he was the Governor of Virginia during 9/11, which made me laugh because that isn’t relevant; the World Trade Centre was in New York, United Airlines Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania, and the other attack was on the Pentagon in Washington D.C., which I grant you is near Virginia. For Gilmore to compare his experiences as the Governor of Virginia, to those of the Governor of New York, who is standing on the stage with you, is bizarre.
On the economy Gilmore was the most detailed of the candidates: he would introduce a three-bracket tax code with income tax rates of 10%, 15% and 25%, a 15% flat corporate tax rate across all industries, eliminate the ‘death tax’, repeal ‘excessive’ regulations like the EPA, repeal all new taxes and Obamacare. If these were implemented the federal government would lose a huge amount of revenue, big corporations would get a huge tax break, the environment would suffer immeasurably and he can’t repeal Obamacare.
The ‘death tax’ is a scaremongering euphemism for inheritance tax which I would presume Republicans would love as it means that everyone, irrespective of how rich your parents were, would have to work hard and the tax would be collected over your cold, dead body.
On ISIS Gilmore stated that he would want to see a Middle East version of NATO in order to isolate Iran; there is a mechanism that exists for countries in the Arab League to work together on military issues already, and considering the NATO is often characterised as a nuclear alliance, a carbon-copy of NATO to annoy Iran would seem risky at best.
Governor Gilmore said that he would appoint Justices to the Supreme Court “that followed the law, and didn’t make it”, illustrating that he too doesn’t understand what judicial review is, and also said that Obama’s Executive Order on immigration was illegal, which it wasn’t as it was an instruction to employees of federal agencies. Hillary Clinton was described by him as a “professional politician not to be trusted”.
This debate was purely academic as I cannot see any situation in which any of these candidates is nominated at the Republican Convention next year. I commend you on reading through all the bullshit of that single hour-long debate, and not throwing your computer against the wall in anger at the blisteringly obvious stupidity of the candidates.