The Republican candidates didn’t wind up making a unified stand over debate conditions, but they got what they wanted anyway. Following the CNBC debacle, moderators from Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal played it safe in Tuesday night’s debate, giving candidates multiple opportunities to recite from their stump speeches and not pushing back too aggressively. Since the candidates weren’t focused on battling the moderators, and there were fewer candidates onstage, it was a more substantive debate. That probably pleased the campaigns, but for viewers it was easily the most boring debate yet. Still, there were several illuminating moments (and a few that were just amusing). Here’s a look at the highlights.
Ben Carson says journalists should stop questioning his background because Benghazi.
The controversy over Carson’s biographical inconsistencies was sure to come up, and Neil Cavuto served him a softball. "As a candidate whose brand has always been trust, are you worried your campaign — which you’ve always said, sir, is bigger than you — is now being hurt by you?" he asked. "Thank you for not asking me what I said in the tenth grade. I appreciate that," Carson joked. But seriously, why should Carson have to explain himself when Hillary Clinton lied about Benghazi?
Ted Cruz pulls a Rick Perry.
Perry’s “oops” moment repeatedly foiled his presidential ambitions, so you’d think candidates would steer clear of listing the three government agencies they’d abolish. Yet Cruz attempted an even more difficult feat: naming the five agencies that would be eliminated under his spending plan. “The IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and HUD — and then 25 specific programs,” he said.
Luckily for Cruz, Maria Bartiromo (who happened to be moderating during the 2012 Perry incident) didn’t catch that he said Department of Commerce twice. Later Cruz joked about the flub with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and explained he meant to list the Department of Education.
Rand Paul and Marco Rubio clash on foreign policy.
Paul sparked an interesting discussion on a core issue in conservative ideology when he called out Rubio for proposing an increase in military spending without explaining how he’d pay for it. Rubio dismissed his comment, saying, "I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I’m not." Paul shot back: "How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You cannot be a conservative if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for."
Rubio argued military spending and economic strength go hand in hand. “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe,” he said. “There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, the Chinese taking over the South China Sea … ”
Vox notes that the U.S. spends plenty on the military and that “there’s basically no evidence that either ISIS or Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea are doing serious damage to the U.S. economy.” However, judging from the applause, Rubio won the exchange.
Foreign policy, round two: Vladimir Putin edition.
When asked what he’d do in response to Russia’s aggression, Trump complained about China and North Korea, then said of the Russian president, "I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night."
Trump and Putin were never in the same room, they were just featured in separate segments on the same episode of 60 Minutes, but Fiorina misunderstood, since that’s an insane argument. She hit back at Trump, saying, "One of the reasons I’ve said that I would not be talking to Vladimir Putin right now, although I have met him as well, not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting … is because we are speaking to him from a position of weakness brought on by this administration, so I wouldn’t talk to him for a while."
Later, Rubio chimed in, saying he’s never met 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."
John Kasich and Jeb Bush tell Trump his policies are childish.
After Trump explained, once again, how he’d make America great again by deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and magically constructing a southern border wall, the Ohio governor pointed out that his plan is absurd. "If people think that we are going to ship 11 million people who are law-abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up at their house and ship them out … to Mexico, think about the families. Think about the children," he said. "It’s a silly argument. It is not an adult argument. It makes no sense."
Trump responded with insults, telling Kasich, "You’re lucky in Ohio that you struck oil," adding, "I don’t have to hear from this man, believe me. I don’t have to hear from him."
Later Bush said Trump’s understanding of foreign policy is simplistic, too. "The idea that it’s a good idea for Putin to be in Syria, let ISIS take out Assad, and then Putin will take out ISIS? I mean, that’s like a board game, that’s like playing Monopoly or something. That’s not how the real world works," Bush said. It’s actually like playing Risk, but close enough.
Trump appoints himself moderator.
Proving that he’s moved on to bigger threats, Trump backed up Bush when Kasich cut him off (though it was pretty condescending). "You should let Jeb speak," Trump told Kasich. When Bush finally got to answer, he said sarcastically, "Thank you, Donald, for letting me speak at the debate, that’s very nice of you. I really appreciate that. What a generous man you are."
Not everyone appreciated Trump’s attempt to give everyone equal time. He was booed when he said of Fiorina, “Why does she keep interrupting everybody? … Terrible.”