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GOP ‘debate’ sinks to mishmash and gibberish

REUTERS/Jim Young
Sen. Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson during Tuesday night's debate on the Fox Business Network.

First of all, we should stop calling these things “debates.”

In a real debate, there is a proposition, and the arguments are pro and con, relative to the proposition. If it’s a good debate, the longer it goes on, the more you learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposition and, at the end, you are in a better-informed position to decide how you feel about the proposition.

In deals like the eight-way would-be-Republican-presidential-nominee mishmash Tuesday night in Milwaukee (and on the Fox Business Network), there is no proposition. Most of what is adduced is neither fact nor argument but occasionally somewhere in-between, also occasionally gibberish.

Different contestants address different questions, at the whim of the moderators. There are no real winners or losers, except maybe a show of hands by a focus group in a back room and then what shows up in the polls a day or two later, which is far from scientific and may or not fluctuate based on anything that happened at the latest mishmash.

There are also practically no rules, or at least none that are enforced. Each candidate is asked a reasonably specific question, and the questions last night were decent. (I agree with the general consensus that they were an improvement over the previous debate, when the CNBC moderators lost sight of their role.)

If the would-be presidents feel like it, they can spend their time on the assigned topic. If they feel they might gain more advantage talking about something else, that’s fine, or at least there are no consequences.

Keep on talkin’

Time limits on answers are announced, but not enforced. Well, eventually, if you talk long enough past your allotted time, a device will bleat at you to alert you to the fact that you’ve run over. But if you don’t feel like being done talking, you can keep talking. Then, if you don’t stop pretty soon, the device bleats again, amounting to a second suggestion that you shut up now. On several occasions, this led to the same failure to up-shut. If you are really clever, you figure a way to sound as if you just want to complete your last sentence, but when you have done so, if you are obnoxious enough, you start a new one.

The obvious solution to this is to cut off the transgressor’s mike. This was done in precisely zero cases. After a while, you start to look like a sap if you abide by the time limits. Unless you are Ben Carson, in which case it serves as just one more reminder of how polite and mild-mannered you are. I don’t have the actual numbers on this, but Carson undoubtedly got the least air-time Tuesday night. He used his time to make a joke about recent controversy over his autobiography and gave a shout-out to his granddaughter in the audience. The general post-debate impression was that he hadn’t done himself any harm and will likely continue to be one of the poll leaders.

‘Debaters’ on taxes and debt

OK, on to what was proffered by the “debaters.” Taxes are too high and should be dramatically lowered, as well as the tax code dramatically shortened — Carly Fiorina says to three-pages. The deficit and debt are too high and must be reduced. There is some tension between these first two assertions, but it was not explored too seriously (although Ohio Gov. John Kasich claims that his fiscal plan will lead to a balanced budget during his second term in the White House).

A lot of the candidates favor switching to flat (rather than graduated, progressive) income taxes. In general, the candidates oppose an increase in the minimum wage, believing that would cause jobs to disappear or not be created in the first place.

Donald Trump made a weird comment, perhaps a joke, in making a familiar argument (that he’s happy to have Russian President Vladimir Putin sending the Russian military into Syria). He said, as an aside about Putin, that “I got to know him very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes,’ we were stable mates, and we did very well that night.”

Still, in general, the group generally did not seem as extreme or detached from reality as they have in earlier debates.

Trump’s big idea

There was a substantial back-and-forth among the candidates about the practicality, advisability and morality of Trump’s big idea of rounding up the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, for example, who opposes Trump’s idea, said: “Twelve million illegal immigrants, to send them back, 500,000 a month, is just not possible. And it’s not embracing American values. And it would tear communities apart. And it would send a signal that we’re not the kind of country that I know America is.”

Those who defended the idea gave as good as they got. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz put it this way: “Every sovereign nation secures its borders, and it is not compassionate to say we’re not going to enforce the laws … .”

Ignoring facts

In some cases, if the candidates didn’t like the facts contained in the questions, they just ignored the facts or even stood them on their heads. For example, the first question to Fiorina went like this:

“Ms. Fiorina, while you’ve all pointed out how weak the current recovery has been and how disappointing by any historical standards, in the general election, the Democrats will inevitably ask you and voters to compare the recent presidents’ jobs performance. Now, in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?”

As the italicized portion above makes clear, the question plainly stated statistics showing a better job creation by the U.S. economy under the two most recent Democratic presidents than under the most recent Republican presidents. But Fiorina replied:

“Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats. But the truth is, this government has been growing bigger and bigger, more corrupt, less effective, crushing the engine of economic growth for a very long time. This isn’t about just replacing a Democrat with a Republican now. It’s about actually challenging the status quo of big government.”

Bush, by the way, was not as awful as in previous debates, but it was my impression (echoed by many of the pundits in the instant analysis) that he hadn’t done much to restore his damaged chances of getting the nomination.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has been moving up in the polls lately, mostly at Bush’s expense, has a gift for making the most of his moments in these debates, for example, gently mocking Trump but also sounding clear-eyed about the Russian president by saying:

“I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster. He is basically an organized crime figure that runs a country, controls a $2 trillion economy. And is using it to build up his military in a rapid way despite the fact his economy is a disaster.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/11/2015 - 10:15 am.

    Well…

    Mishmash and gibberish all they ever had isn’t it? Let’s just hope the democrats can make voters aware of it this time around.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/11/2015 - 11:43 am.

    The candidates got what they wanted–a kinder, gentler Q&A where they can make up all sorts of nonsense without any push-back from the moderators.

    Sure, let’s have Hannity, Levin and Limbaugh as moderators. It couldn’t be much more crazy/stupid.

    At least then we can really find out the story on how Starbucks is killing baby Jesus by having plain red coffee cups.

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/11/2015 - 03:00 pm.

      Dodd-Frank

      On Fox Business, they allowed candidates (including Jeb!) to fundamentally misstate what is in Dodd-Frank. The capital requirements for banks have gone up substantially, not down as Jeb! claimed. In fact, the largest banks today have 2x as much capital on hand as they did before the meltdown in 2008.

  3. Submitted by Josh William on 11/11/2015 - 12:20 pm.

    The apathetic viewer

    Fiorina is just a compulsive liar.

    The fact that she perpetuated the myths about Planned Parenthood (in previous interviews) when she was deliberately given the opportunity to admit that she could have been wrong only cements how much these people lie. They want to ride the momentum of the misinformed (staged by certain news networks), the emotionally charged, or those who choose to simply ignore any contrasting arguments (or facts!) because they don’t suit their beliefs.

    Long live the apathetic viewer.*

    *A.K.A. The apathetic voter

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/11/2015 - 12:26 pm.

    Batting practice

    Fox moderators offered up easy to hit questions in an attempt to turn a debate into a home run derby. Even so some candidates could not hit it out of the infield. Ideas like a flat tax, that either collects not enough tax to balance budget or raised taxes on everyone except the rich were not questioned. If MSNBC was too hot for the candidates to handle, this was a huge portion of cold gruel.

  5. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 11/11/2015 - 12:42 pm.

    A Shallow Subject

    They all sound the same.

  6. Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/11/2015 - 02:52 pm.

    Favorite quotes

    The reason D. Trump said the minimum wage can’t be raised to $15: “We are a country that is being beaten on every front, economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. Our taxes are too high.”

    Trump again, after Carly Fiorina made a point about President Ronald Reagan’s negotiations during the Cold War: “Why does she keep interrupting everybody?”

    Rubio: “If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine.”

    Rand Paul to moderator Gerard Baker after Donald Trump talked about China while criticizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: “Hey, Gerard, we might want to point out China’s not part of this deal.”

    Carly Fiorina: “”We must beat Hillary Clinton. Carly Fiorina can beat Hillary Clinton. I will beat Hillary Clinton.” Because, if she doesn’t, “The rich will get richer. The poor will get poorer. The middle class will continue to get crushed.” But if she does, “we will restore the character of this nation, the security of this nation, the prosperity of this nation, because as citizens, we will take our government back.”

    Jeb Bush: “I got about four minutes in the last debate. I’m going to get my question right now.”

    John Kasich: “I come from a town where if the wind blew the wrong way, people found themselves out of work.”

    Ben Carson: “We should vet all candidates. I have no problem with being vetted. What I do have a problem with is it being lied about, and then putting it out there as truth.”

    (Journalist Matt Taibbi’s related pre-debate comment: “Going into the debate in Milwaukee tonight, there are a few major themes swirling around the campaign. Ben Carson’s theories about pyramids are a hot topic, as is his anger that the mainstream press refuses to believe he tried to kill two people, including his mother.”)

    Ted Cruz: “The Democrats are laughing”

    http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/republican-debate-quotes-from-donald-trump-ben-carson-marco-rubio-and-more-november-10-2015-1.11110020

    And one more pre-debate email exchange account from M. Taibbi:

    From: Press Credentials

    Good afternoon,

    If you are receiving this email we were unable to grant you a credential to cover the debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday, November 10th.

    Please let us know if you have any further questions.

    Thank you.
    GOP.com

    Dear GOP.com,

    Your candidates are all mental incompetents, and the world would be a safer place if they were to fall down a cobalt mine and cannibalize one another.

    Also, the race you’re conducting this cycle to choose a party nominee is a train wreck unparalleled in the annals of modern democracy. There will be people laughing at your debate tonight in places like Belarus.

    However, thank you for processing my request for a credential.

    Sincerely,
    Matt Taibbi
    Rolling Stone Magazine

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-official-gop-debate-drinking-game-rules-pt-4-20151110

  7. Submitted by H Ettinger on 11/11/2015 - 03:01 pm.

    Diversity?

    As an independent not even close to making a presidential decision, it is disappointing to see such a lack of diversity of opinion as to last night’s debate. Being a relatively new follower of Minnpost, I was expecting to see a more balanced readership…..wrong! If nothing else, compared to previous debates, the behavior of the questioners was professional, focused primarily on economic issues facing average americans, not political for the most part. Sure, control of candidates could have been better (it can always be within reason), but the format worked better than we have seen previously. Instead of talking about self-absorbed moderators as has been to often the case, at least viewers had an opportunity to see candidates respond to straight forward questions…after that viewers can come to their own conclusions.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/11/2015 - 09:50 pm.

      Dear Harvey

      Welcome to the “Black Hole,” as I prefer to think of Mr. Black’s offerings. You may find that the MinnPost moderating standards seem somewhat relaxed for his readers.

      You may also find little to no pretense of objectivity in related comments. For the most part, however, his followers seem to be honestly polarized.

      Judge for yourself as you get to know the MinnPost menagerie of contributors. Most others are pretty good writers and honest reporters, mostly refugees from the print press. In general MinnPost does face Left politically, as you will observe in topics and treatments. That should not present you with problems, however, because Independents understand bias when they read it. You may find many pieces to be more taunt than traditional journalism. That is the Blog Bog of contemporary digital diaspora. Enjoy MinnPost and its audience of “usual suspects.”

      Please read across the spectrum and please do contribute rationally independent views when you wish.

      Jim Million, Independent reader

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/12/2015 - 09:47 pm.

        Eye of the beholder

        Seeing a post from Erik, pretty much knew what was coming, similar to the questions and lack of stiff follow up form Fox at the debates. There is nothing new or biased. Back to the post about the debate: It is ludicrous to propose a 3 page tax code, dam credit card agreement is 6, for folks like me that is impossible to take such a statement seriously. It is also ludicrous to think we are going to round up 11-12M immigrants and ship them across the border, this will make us look like the Nazi’s in WWII, does anyone in their right mind think this is a good idea, especially on the world stage? Yes. it was noted that 2 of the candidates so much as said the same. Econ 101: We heard about slashing taxes to 10% and in the next breadth building a gigantic military on top of the gigantic one we already have, and where does all that extra revenue come from, all those tax accountants and IRS workers that were just put on the welfare and unemployment roles. Those type of wild-eyed proposals do not in the least impress me that any of these folks have the slightest idea what a fiscal conservative is, ironically Rand Paul and perhaps John Kasich were probably the only one’s that had a clue, I suspect JEB did as well but he wasn’t chiming in much. When the dialogue is so far off “reasonable” it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. to take most of these folks seriously as a viable candidate for the most powerful office on the planet. Siding with the Philosophers in the political arena, similar to the training of the founders, appears to be the better choice in the how to think about a well run society. Having done a stint as a production welder, I can see the value of each in their respective trade.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/12/2015 - 11:18 am.

      What’s it all about, anyway?

      As my favorite internet rocket scientist, Philip Greenspun, said, way back in 1998, about the all but Brand New Thing called web sites, “Never forget that content is king” (and “Make sure your web pages load in three seconds or less”).

      “Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing”
      http://philip.greenspun.com/panda/

      That first “Real World Truth” is the first reason I’m such a big fan of Minnpost.

      And while it may seem a small and technical thing people aren’t much concerned with these days, I really appreciate the way in which the people (way) behind the Minnpost scenes (in the engine room) have done an excellent job of sticking relatively close to his second suggestion. I could write a short book about that, but I’ll just say that compared to most similar Minnesota news web sites, the way the MinnPost web site itself was planned, put together, and has been maintained and improved upon as it’s gone along, makes it run like a Ferrari compared to the lumbering Waste Management Trucks most other organizations have put together.

      When you mentioned your were new to Minnpost it got me to looking around for their “About” page but, humble organization it is, and common as About pages are, there doesn’t seem to be one. So I did a little hunting around because I figured you might find the story of how MinnPost got started interesting, if you’re not already familiar.

      I say that because, regardless of what may have been your first impression of a lack of diversity, I’m pretty sure the reasons you’ll most likely enjoy this web site are contained in that story, and the extent to which MinnPost has lived-up to its “original intent.”

      I located a 2010 interview with Joel Kramer, the guy that started Minnpost, and I think these excerpts do a nice job of summing up those things:

      “I would say that the goal is to serve a community of people who care about Minnesota, people who are engaged in creating the state’s future, opinion leaders, office holders, activists. It’s an important segment of the people who read newspapers. It’s not everybody. Our goal has always been to serve that audience with news, information, analysis, commentary, forum for discussion, for people who are actively involved in the community of the state. That has always been our goal. It’s never been to replace what mainstream media do, but to supplement it, aimed at the people who read the most and act on what they read the most. And that has not changed. . .

      “We take our principal responsibility as informing this community with what they want and need to know to play the roles they want to play in creating our community and creating its future.

      “We do ask our audience what it is that makes them read MinnPost and why they like it and why they keep coming back to it, and the most important thing is reporting and analysis from writers they trust and being on top of stories they really care about and explaining what the stories really mean. In other words, getting beyond the superficial reporting. For example, reporting on the motives of lawmakers — assessing the quality of their proposals and of their actions. Comparing what happens here to comparable situations elsewhere. Predicting what might happen next, based on the authority of the reporter. And introducing these readers to new ideas they didn’t know about, trends and people they should know about. These are the main things, the most important things we do.”

      And, regarding MinnPost’s objectives when it comes to quality writing/reporting, and in more specific relation to Mr. Million welcoming you to the “Black Hole,” I’d guess Eric may have been the type of communicator Joel Kramer had in mind when he said, “you can have quality in short term, [quality] that’s in long form. You can have quality in pieces that took six months and pieces that were turned in four hours. And from day one, we were committed to the idea that our writers did not have to be bound by some false definition of objectivity, in which the writer pretends that he or she has no views about anything.”

      More at: http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/06/minnposts-joel-kramer-on-the-pull-between-big-audience-and-big-impact/

      Here’s a link to a 2010 New York Times piece about MinnPost by (the late) David Carr entitled, “Online News Fights to Live on Its Merits”:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/business/media/24carr.html

      And, in the, “Well… How’s that workin’ out forya, then?” catergory, here’s one to the Proof in the Pudding section:

      http://www.minnpost.com/inside-minnpost/2015/05/minnpost-wins-best-website-page-one-awards-bierschbach-named-young-journalis

      And, while we’re at it here, Mr. Million’s use of the terms, “little to no pretense of objectivity,” and “rationally independent views,” made me think of one key word:

      Facts.

      By that I mean, it seems an obvious prerequisite that anyone that considers themselves an objective and rationally independent person would place a high-as-can-be value on what the objective rational facts have to say about situations, pronouncements, issues, practical plans, etc..

      And I believe you’ll find a lot of people that may be perceived and referred to as less, or other, than objective, rational or independent are often perceived to be that because of their examination and consideration of, and actual experience with, the facts involved in whatever the question may be.

      In “these particular times,” politically, that may make a lot of people appear to be “nothing but liberal or progressive or generally biased Democrats,” or, at least certainly not “independent.” But, if consideration of the facts really is central to being independent, that isn’t necessarily the case… They may appear to be aligned with whatever exactly the “DFL point of view” seems to be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less independent that anyone else looking at the objective, rational facts.

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/11/2015 - 03:47 pm.

    Hard to call it a debate

    It seemed mostly like a 2 hour Republican commercial using their usual made up information and stale talking points. Nothing new, viable, or informational. I guess the goal was do no damage. Weak moderators didn’t add anything to the so called debate format. I’m not sure why they had any rules as no one followed them. Trump and his immigration nonsense got pushback from Kasich and Bush. At least they are willing to go away from the ridiculous Republican party line on immigration. Every time the GOP candidates speak it just reinforces how leaderless the Republican party really is.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/11/2015 - 04:28 pm.

    I keep hoping

    …to wake up to find that this has all been a very, very bad dream, and that the Republican Party, which used to merit considerable respect in my household, not to mention the occasional vote, has presented this group of unskilled clowns to us purposely, as entertainment, to be followed at some point by at least a couple of real candidates.

  10. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 11/11/2015 - 04:55 pm.

    I think Jerry Springer and his crew should run the next one.

  11. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/13/2015 - 12:22 pm.

    Realioty Check, Please

    “MinnPost does face Left politically…”

    Reality tends to have a left leaning leg. For example:

    -It’s not practical no desirable to deport eleven million people. The immigrants are here because there are jobs for them that other people won’t fill given the wages offered them. If people really want to get rid of immigrants, all that needs to be done is stop hiring them. With no jobs to tap into, they’ll head back to the greater opportunities in their countries of origin. But Americans had better be prepared to pay more for fruits and vegetables, construction, and house and office cleaning as those jobs are all done primarily be illegal immigrants.

    -Flat tax: The candidates seem to think a 10% flat tax (maybe 15% on a bad day) is all we need to balance the budget. And none of it will be progressive, which just puts more burden on the poor, who can ill afford it, and less on the wealthy, who, by definition, have gobs of money. That’s even before doing the math, which shows that 10 or 15% just isn’t enough to balance the budget without massive cuts.

    -Global warming: Despite all evidence to the contrary, Republicans still think it doesn’t exist. They’re not using much of a fact-based decision making process to get to a reasonable conclusion.

    -Minimum wage: It’s basic economics 101 that supply doesn’t produce demand, disposable income does. We can go on about all the job creators we want, but the reality is no one is going to buy the products unless they have money in their pockets. Since the 1970s we’ve seen the bulk of productivity gains got to the top 1% and the wages of the bottom 40% shrink. Raising the minimum wage will partially restore that imbalance, give people more disposable income, and heat up the economy in the process.

    That just addresses a few of the ideas the GOP candidates have put forward. It doesn’t even get into the kooky items like pyramids, how old the earth is, or whether or not the rapture is coming. We’ll always have a certain number of people who vote for whoever has the “R” after their name, but hopefully there will be enough sensible people who are sick of all the grand standing and go for more of a fact-based outlook on life. These people can go on all they want about how this deity or that is on their side, but to paraphrase Monty Python, a watery tart lobbing scimitars is no basis for a representational government.

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