The fourth GOP debate has come and gone. With just under a year to go until election day what is said now will not determine the result of the general election, however the candidates’ words are important nonetheless. In these preceding months the candidates are supposedly grilled by the media so primary voters can evaluate the policy proposals on offer, but this is not the case. Since the debacle surrounding the third Republican debate with CNBC, the media have been cowed into doing as the GOP says and it is the American people that shall suffer as a result.
In the Milwaukee Theatre in Wisconsin, the eight leading GOP candidates gathered to debate predominately economic and foreign policy issues. The debate itself was put on by Fox Business in partnership with the Wall Street Journal, and was moderated by Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo of the former, and Gerard Baker of the latter. The moderators did a decent job of giving the candidates equal amounts of time although the disparity between the candidate receiving the most amount of time (Ted Cruz) and the least (Rand Paul) was a noticeable four minutes.
On the substance, the questioning was poor. The CNBC moderators had asked legitimate questions that challenged the candidates to explain and defend their policies, as journalists should. These questions were not perfect but they were mostly substantive. In this debate, however, many of the questions were inane and/or based on false premises, and sometimes the moderators did not bother to follow up on a point made by a candidate, even though the point was ludicrous and clearly untrue.
Here are two examples. Firstly, moderator Maria Bartiromo prefixed a question to Jeb Bush with this statement: “almost 40% of Americans are without a job and are not looking, many have given up. That’s what the participation rate tells us”. This statistic is technically true, but it’s implication is absurd. The implication of this statement is that 40% of the American people are unemployed, and that is what people that listened to this statement took away from it. The manner to which this is misleading, in my view, disqualifies Bartiromo as a journalist because it is totally intellectually dishonest.
The current unemployment rate in the US, according to latest figures from the Department of Labor, is around 5.0% with real unemployment, those people who are unemployed, underemployed and no longer looking for work, at around 9.8%. This is still over 30% off what Bartiromo claimed the jobless figures are. This is because in her definition of “people without a job and not looking” she is including the disabled, senior citizens, stay-at-home parents, high-school students college and graduate students, and job-training participants. If these people are included then she is absolutely correct, but someone in high school is not what most people would characterise as an unemployed person. She misled the American people blatantly and used this disingenuous premise to throw a softball question at Jeb Bush.
The second example is from fellow Fox Business host Neil Cavuto, who genuinely asked the following question to Tea Party favourite Dr Ben Carson: “whose [tax] plan would God endorse?”. I’m not a Christian but if I was I would be profoundly offended by this question. I would ask genuinely why a supposedly impartial moderator was essentially using my religion to score political points with an uneducated audience. Also on a point of logical consistence, Jesus, who in the Christian religion is supposedly the human incarnate of God, repeatedly spoke about how the rich are immoral and will not join him in Heaven; I don’t think the Republican Party can really use Jesus as a political football given they oppose everything he stood for, but that’s just the opinion of someone who has facts.
In terms of who won the debate, I’ve been wrong on all the other debates because I have the handicap of using logic to reach my conclusions, which apparently the GOP base does not. Below is my analysis of the candidates, but a general rule of thumb to ascertain the winner is to, irrespective of my opinion, pick the candidate who made the least sense and who made their argument in the simplest language. Have fun.