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Trump Yells, Audience Boos: Lowlights From GOP Debate IV

Steve Russell

The herd is finally shrinking, but not necessarily in a rational manner. The former leading candidate of the Republican establishment, Jeb!, is looking at numbers that say the more the voters see of him, the less they like him.

National polls have kicked two candidates down to the undercard, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie. Huckabee is a one-trick pony who is no great loss. He has won Iowa in the past because Christian fundamentalists believe he walks on water. After Iowa, he sunk like a stone.

Chris Christie, while not my favorite candidate by any stretch, is getting a raw deal. He registered an excellent performance in GOP Debate III, but his efforts were reflected in national polls just barely too late to keep him in the grownup debate.

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Two others have been ejected from the debates entirely, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham. Pataki is no great loss in the sense that the GOP has not nominated a pro-choice candidate since Roe v. Wade and it’s further to the right this year than at any time since 1964. In the last debate, Pataki made the bald claim that he “knew” Hillary Clinton’s private server was hacked for classified information…just a couple of days before the result of an investigation showed there was no classified information there to be hacked.

Lindsey Graham is also getting a raw deal, because he is the only candidate in the Republican field with any foreign policy chops. At every debate, Graham has asserted that nobody is qualified to be POTUS who is unwilling to endorse open ended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to start new ones in Syria and Yemen and bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. Missing that is not the loss. The loss is that the remaining candidates may now continue claiming Obama’s all wrong in those countries without having to offer any alternative.

It’s politics that are supposed to stop at the water’s edge, not policy, and the absence of foreign policy expertise is only tolerable to voters because the impact of war has been confined to the one percent who volunteer to be endlessly recycled into combat. Need I add that one percent comes disproportionately from Indian country?

Tonight, the GOP side of this year’s political graveyard contains the rotting carcasses of Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham.

With the changes meant to reflect national polling numbers, the undercard will be the newly demoted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the experienced junior varsity, former Virginia Sen. Rick Santorum (second place to Mitt Romney last election) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The grownup table has shrunk to eight, roughly in order of poll numbers, reality TV star Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The Undercard

Pre-debate commentary was pretty much the same from MSNBC to Fox. For the undercard, the question was whether Christie, who did well last week, could “pull a Fiorina” this week and get back to the big show.

What in fact happened was they all were all trying to pull a Fiorina, and that’s a lot of aggression firing against each other. It was entertaining for the audience but hard for the candidates.

If the standard of performance was aggression, then Bobby Jindal won the undercard, but he had plenty of competition. In particular, Jindal attacked Christie (understandable) and Huckabee (less understandable).

Reminding me of a question Hillary Clinton ducked in the Democratic Forum, all of the Republicans were asked to name one, just one, Democrat they admire. I would translate their answers as follows:

Jindal: That’s a stupid question.

Huckabee: The Department of Veterans Affairs sucks.

Christie: Obama won’t stand behind the police and I will.

Santorum: We need to get the federal government out of the business of maintaining infrastructure and I respect the Democrats because “they take it to us.”

On taxes, which they all hate, both Santorum and Christie want to do away with deductibility of state income taxes. They seem to think states would respond by lowering taxes so they could starve two governments for the price of one. This would scare me if it were not a non-starter, because my dream is to make tribal taxes deductible to the same extent as state taxes.

Huckabee is out of the tax rate discussion because he wants to abolish the income tax in favor of a retail consumption tax. He did not go so far as to call for repeal of the 16th Amendment.

Jindal’s rates start at two percent and max out at 25 percent. Asked why he does not want to tax corporate income, he expressed the opinion that corporations won’t pay it anyway.

At the risk of boring my readers, I must observe that the crazy quotient got out of hand with questions about the Federal Reserve Bank. Alexander Hamilton spins in his grave.

Christie claims the Fed kept interest rates low to support Obama, apparently overlooking that policy was put in place by Ben Bernanke, who George W. Bush appointed Fed chair after his term as chair of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Personally, I can’t think of anyone I would rather have had in charge of stopping Great Depression II than an academic rather than an investment banker who had to analyze Great Depression I in his M.I.T. dissertation.

Then, when the crash happened, presidential candidate John McCain wanted to fire Bernanke, apparently not understanding that the Fed is insulated from partisan politics for good structural reasons.

Huckabee wants to do the same thing to Obama’s appointee, Janet Yellen, not accounting for the fact that she can’t be fired and her term does not end until 2018. Is it too much to ask that a POTUS know that?

Huckabee is also offended that the dollar floats against other currencies and he wants the Fed (!!) to peg it to something. If not gold, some basket of commodities. Is it too much to ask that a POTUS know the economic advantage to the dollar as a world reserve currency and that it’s that precisely because it does float?

It’s also somewhat relevant that China wants its currency, the Renminbi, to be part of a basket of reserve currencies but that cannot happen until the Renminbi floats. And Huckabee wants the U.S. dollar to quit floating? Say what?

Ignorance of macroeconomics was shocking, but the most bizarre assertion of the evening on the policy level was that doing away with the income tax would cause manufacturing to return to the U.S.

The best idea all evening was by Santorum, who wanted the VA health care system to create “centers of excellence” around the country to provide cutting edge research and care on conditions that affect veterans. He gave as examples prosthetic limbs and PTSD treatment. An excellent idea, but somewhat diminished by his proposal to abolish the rest of the VA hospital system.

Bobby Jindal displayed his aggression again when he demanded, “VA bureaucrats should go to jail.” That line got applause, apparently showing the audience, like Jindal, unmoved by the “technicality” that nobody has claimed the people he wants to lock up committed a crime.

If they start locking up people for simply being incompetent, some of the people on that stage will have a serious problem.

Jindal questioned whether the federal government should have the power to say anything about wages, apparently innocent of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Santorum answered a question about welfare as if the welfare reform law Bill Clinton signed never happened.

Christie claimed that Hillarycare was a single payer plan, which is not even close to the truth. He promised that his first act as POTUS would be an executive order to suspend all government regulations for 120 days.

Santorum upped the ante on Christie by promising to repeal all regulations that cost more than $100,000. There went the Environmental Protection Agency.

Santorum also refused to apologize in auto manufacturing country for opposing the auto industry bail out. I give him credit for standing behind his position like I did Obama when he came out against ethanol requirements in front of Indiana corn farmers and for raising fleet mileage requirements in front of autoworkers. Santorum also gets props for being the only candidate on the stage to support the Export-Import Bank.

Jindal’s aggression got out of hand again when he alleged that Obama “does not believe in American exceptionalism.” Good grief. Like Bill Clinton, he went from food stamps to the White House. As Jindal said in his attack on Christie, “Facts don’t lie.”

Candidates sometimes do.

Main Event

The talking heads from MSNBC to Fox agreed that Jeb! needed a strong performance and Dr. Carson needed to prove he could navigate policy issues.

The crazy quotient took a dive immediately when the debate started at the adult table. Perhaps this is some evidence that the right people are there and perhaps it’s because they don’t need to feign testosterone poisoning to get where they already are.

One bit of aggression that has been missing finally put in an appearance when The Donald’s opponents quit tolerating his nonsense and started shouting back at him.

Trump got a softball question to his political sweet spot, immigration. The question was phrased in economic terms, but Trump used it to go off on undocumented workers bringing in drugs. I was waiting for the Steve King line, “calves the size of cantaloupes.”

Co-anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump if he really thought it was reasonable to deport five million people.

I was thinking, “Five million?” Kasich suddenly lit into Trump about the practicalities of deporting 11 million people. “It’s not an adult argument.”

When Trump began yelling at Kasich, the audience struck up a chorus of boos.

Cruz backed Trump, cautioning that the Republicans cannot join the Democrats as “the party of amnesty.”

When Bush finally got a word in, he backed Kasich. To my surprise, the audience seemed more favorable to Kasich-Bush than Trump-Cruz.

Fiorina got a chance to explain how she would replace Obamacare. She talked about setting up price competition and the government providing a place where coverages by different companies could be conveniently compared. Sounds like the state exchanges under Obamacare.

Pressed further, she proposed that states should be given the authority to “manage high risk pools.” The two obvious problems are that states always had the authority and never used it but, more important, the problem is not just catastrophic illnesses or high-risk patients. The problem is ordinary people having access to routine care.

Trump caught a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and started in with his normal rant about generalities and the bottom line that Obama made a bad deal and Trump would make a good deal. He went on and on about what the TPP did not do to China. He really teed up the ball for somebody to nail him.

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Rand Paul nailed him, saying what I was thinking: “Hey Gerard (Baker), you know, we might want to point out China’s not part of this deal.” Once more, the audience applauded a skewering of The Donald.

Making it a trifecta, Carly Fiorina got a big laugh when she said that she—as well as Trump—had met Vladimir Putin, “but not in a green room,” making fun of Trump’s puffed up description of when he and Vlad were on the same TV show.

RELATED: Thumping Trump: Republican Debate, Round Two

Rubio’s biggest applause line of the evening was to suggest that this country needs “more welders and fewer philosophers.” Before getting on the pugnacious ignorance bandwagon, Rubio should perhaps read some Eric Hoffer. I don’t agree with everything the longshoreman philosopher wrote, but no sane person could think philosophy did him harm.

Kasich, the voice of sanity most of the evening, made a complete fool of himself conflating investment banking with commercial banking, inviting people to sympathize with the savings of widows and orphans in their pitiful Goldman, Sachs accounts losing money on credit default swaps. The audience in the building caught on and booed. If the TV audience caught on, he’s a goner, because his numbers were not that great coming in.

Cruz recycled the canard about Congress being exempt from Obamacare. The audience loved it. He promised to fix the “problem” and he does indeed have a bill that purports to do just that. The only problem is there’s no such problem.

Jeb! got off the “low energy” dime but he did not have the breakout performance all the talking heads said he needed to have. He seemed to have improved his rudeness quotient and he no longer quit talking as if the moderators and the other candidates were worthy of respect like he did last time.

Bush did not make the move against Rubio that had been rumored, perhaps because he was still smarting from the thumping Rubio delivered last time.

Besides brushing off Bush again if necessary, Rubio needed to provide some basis to choose him rather than Ted Cruz. They are both very good at framing issues on the fly and working in talking points. Rubio did manage to endorse more military activity than Cruz, or to appear he did.

Rubio got into it with Rand Paul, trying to dismiss the Kentucky libertarian as “a committed isolationist.” Paul countered by asking Rubio what is conservative about giving the military a blank treasury check? Isn’t military spending still spending?

Paul was notably more measured than the other candidates in his use of the military. Everybody else seemed to want a no-fly zone in Syria, but Paul pointed out that the zone they want to declare no-fly is where “the Russians are already flying.”

Ben Carson’s final statement was excellent, right until the last line when he blamed all the country’s problems on “political correctness.” Say what?

Carson had a much better evening than Donald Trump, and it will be interesting to see if the polls reflect the debate. Carson and Trump have been neck and neck. Tonight, Carson beat Trump by more than a nose.

Either Rand Paul hit more telling blows this time or he just sounds better when not offering a squeak against Chris Christie’s bellow.

Depending on what poll numbers have to show as the price for admission, Kasich and Paul may be gone next time, leaving Fiorina on the bubble. Once more Jeb! might have folded his tent, except that his SuperPAC, Right to Rise, just dropped a $20 million ad buy in the early primary states, and there’s more where that came from.

Rubio and Cruz are too similar and so far too evenly matched to expect either to drop out.

If this debate mattered, expect Carson to open some daylight between himself and Donald Trump.

Barring unforeseen scandals or money running dry, expect the next GOP debate to be Carson, Trump, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz.  Whether the others make it depends on the polling numbers expected as the price of admission.

Chris Christie may still be promoted on the strength of his viral video on addiction. His opportunity to advance by pulling a Fiorina was thwarted by everybody at the undercard having the same idea.

If the world were rational, the choices would come down to an outsider candidate (Carson, Trump, Fiorina) v. an insider candidate (Bush, Rubio, Cruz) with the advantage in the showdown to the outsider candidate.

But if the world were rational, much of what I report here would not have happened.

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