NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- We can’t run from it any more. The 2016 election season hosted its first debate Thursday night in Cleveland with 10 of the 17 declared candidates on one stage for the first time.
There was a lot said during this debate’s two hour runtime, much of which was relatively predictable. The candidates vowed to undo Barack Obama’s presidency, competed with each other to out-hate Hillary Clinton and promised to step aside in favor of a third term for Ronald Reagan.
That much most viewers could see coming, like a Democrat chewing red meat about inequality or the George W. Bush years.
The volume of candidates on one stage made it hard to tease out anything meaningful about individual policies. With ten voices competing for time, no one got a chance to talk about every issue, and on many subjects the candidates shared a broad (almost uniform) consensus.
Yet contrary to popular opinion, that doesn’t mean that these were interchangeable Republican placeholders. Quite the contrary, in an often thoughtful and occasionally fiery series of exchanges each of these candidates vying to be POTUS managed to carve out a unique personality in the upcoming race.
With a caveat that there’s still a long (long, long, long) race ahead, and another that only Donald Trump got more than nine minutes of airtime, here are a few early takeaways about some of the candidates in this first Republican debate.
When it comes to keeping dollars and making cents, the candidates all agreed to do three things almost immediately: defund Planned Parenthood, lower taxes and rescind the despised Obamacare.
While outright war on Planned Parenthood has something of the feeling of a flavor of the week, Obamacare has been on the right wing radar since long before it even passed. Setting aside whether a president on January 21, 2017 could actually act to unwind such a vast piece of legislation, doing so would mean higher health care costs for the average American.
Like the law or hate it, Obamacare both caps premiums and has successfully bent the curve on medical costs for years. (For a less-revoltingly short analysis, MainStreet has extensive coverage of the personal finance impact of Obamacare here.)
Say this for The Donald, he certainly seems to love a fight. Taking center stage, the Republican front runner relished his opportunity to rile up the Fox News moderators, but like his famous casinos, he ultimately presented more style than substance.
Trump’s most specific moments came when he talked about trade deficits and debt. Underlining his history as a businessman, Trump argued that his executive background would let him get a handle on government debt and catch America up in trade with the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, like business plans presented by far too many neophytes, Trump’s was long on vision but short on mechanics. Where Trump would get this money, how he would catch up the trade deficit and why he thinks running a business is the same as running a government are all unknowns. On economics, this candidacy still seems to boil down to a really neat package… just don’t ask what’s inside.
“We need to lift our spirits and have high, lofty expectations for this country of ours,” Bush said at one point during the debate. “We’ve created rules and taxes on top of every aspiration of people.”
This was Bush’s response when asked to “specifically” describe how he would achieve the 4% GDP growth and 19 million new jobs that he’s promised under a third Bush presidency. Although “wishing really hard” makes for an interesting economic platform (we've heard "Hope" as a slogan somewhere before), Bush has plenty of substance on his record from his time as the governor of Florida.
His presidency would focus on cutting regulations and government jobs in an effort to jump start private sector hiring. Bush also referenced eliminating the Dodd-Frank Act as well as embracing the Keystone Pipeline, a project that has remained highly controversial as an engine for job growth.
One of Walker’s favorite talking points as a politician is the number of times he has “faced down” over 100,000 protestors around the Madison, Wis. capitol building. For anyone who has ever visited the relatively small capitol plaza in Madison, it's clear that truly could not have been easy, but it takes a certain kind of politician to blow off so many of his own constituents and then brag about it later.
Walker was light on economics in this debate but faced some tough questions from the moderators who questioned him on delivering less than half of the 250,000 new jobs that his campaign promised while running for governor.
Still, Walker fired back, arguing that his administration cut unemployment from 8% to 6% and refused to apologize for being someone who would “aim high.” Much like his colleagues, Walker promised an economic program focused on tax cuts, reduced regulations and union busting.
By luck of the draw, Rubio got one of the most interesting questions of the evening. When asked how he would help entrepreneurs and small businesses, Rubio answered that he would “even out the tax code” so that small businesses pay the same rate of 25% that regular businesses do.
MainStreet has reached out to the Rubio campaign for further comment on what, exactly, Senator Rubio meant by “even out the tax code.”
Rubio was also the only candidate to bring up the student loan crisis, referring to his own struggle with over $100,000 in educational debt. Speaking in an interview after the debate, he suggested a solution based around vocational training to put competitive pressure on traditional schools.
Mike Huckabee would like to abolish the income tax.
More than once during last night’s debates and subsequent interviews, Huckabee discussed his commitment to a Fair Tax, a consumption based model that would basically work like a national sales tax or European-style VAT.
“Here’s what people need to realize,” he said. “The current tax code punishes people’s work, savings, investments and inheritances, in other words everything that makes the economy strong.”
By abolishing the income tax in favor of a national tax on goods and services, Huckabee vowed to get rid of the IRS and provide the national sense of relief that would come from knowing that the poor will finally start paying their fair share around here.
The last word on taxes should belong to Ben Carson, a man whose belief that medical school prepared him for the presidency has made him required reading on the subject of physician God complexes. (Unknown is whether he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express before declaring.)
Carson would transform the tax code into a flat tax based on biblical tithing, one inherently fair, because it came directly from God who (in Carson’s words) believes that “if you have a bumper crop you don’t owe me triple tithes.”
Since the Bible also teaches that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God,” Huckabee and Carson must either be working with some very large needles or biologically astonishing camels.