When Fox News journalist Neil Cavuto closed out the fourth Republican debate, he was clearly pleased that the evening “wasn’t about us, it was about them.” This, of course, was a reference to the previous Republican debate in which the candidates spent a great deal of time arguing with the moderators and then took the extraordinary step of having their campaigns meet afterwards to rein in the press in future debates.
So the first winners of the fourth GOP debate were the Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal moderators who asked serious questions and stayed out of the fray.
Viewers also won, thanks to an unusual degree of forthrightness on some pretty touchy topics. The first heated exchange of the night was one example. Governor Kasich took Donald Trump’s immigration plan head on—noting how ridiculous it was to expect that we could actually deport eleven million illegal aliens. Senator Cruz went after “corporate welfare”—and even singled out the sugar subsidy, one of the least known but most egregious examples of corporate welfare anywhere. Dr. Ben Carson suggested getting rid of all loopholes in the tax code including the mortgage tax deduction and the charitable deduction. There’s a case to be made against the first one particularly. The mortgage home deduction is a regressive tax that benefits home owners over renters. While I’m not sure Ben Carson would make this argument—it was amazing to see this sacred cow put on the table.
Of course there was some nonsense in the mix as well. This week, Republicans seem enamored with abolishing the Internal Revenue Service. I’m sure this polls well. However, nearly all the candidates have put forth tax plans. And as long as there are taxes, you need someone to collect them. The IRS doesn’t make tax policy—they simply follow the law. Change the law and you change what the IRS does—but you still need an IRS.
And some candidates seemed a bit more muddled than others. As usual, Dr. Carson didn’t seem quite comfortable with the details of government—suggesting at one point that special operations “…are called special ops because they’re trying to guide the other things we’re doing.” Huh?
Finally there was poor Governor Kasich, the candidate with the most perfect resume for actually doing the job of president. But as much as he tries to remind voters that “on the job training for President of the United States doesn’t work,” he simply can’t get any traction with the voters.
So the night ended much as the night began. The two non-traditional candidates did their schtick. And the candidates with experience vacillated between some truly intelligent exchanges and some craven attempts to tap into the anger that is, so far, causing the Republican voters to ignore them.