The Wall Street Journal front-page story on the GOP debate in Milwaukee reports that the "candidates decided to try something different Tuesday in the latest nationally televised debate: focus on policy."
Actually, they were able to do this because they got good questions from the moderators–Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business and Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker–who allowed them to engage each other but did not ask them to insult each other.
If there was a clear winner, it was the viewers, who went away with a clearer idea of how the candidates view the issues confronting us.
Donald Trump's answer on whether he advocates raising the minimum wage was surprisingly no frills–"We cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can't do it"–and it was left to the other candidates to make the moral argument against raising the minimum wage.
Dr. Ben Carson's policy statements sometimes sound as if his heart is in the right place but that he has a Cliff Notes-depth grasp of some policy issues. But he was excellent on this. He made the moral argument superbly.
"As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases," Carson said. He particularly hit how raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to African American youths.
Senator Marco Rubio had another strong night (the Politico panel thought he had won again).
On the minimum wage, Rubio also stressed that it is important for people to be able to enter the job market, something a hike in the minimum wage will make less likely for entry level workers.
On this issue, Rubio got off one of the good lines of the night. Saying that we have "stigmatized" vocational education, Rubio said, "Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers." Lovely line–and a not-so-subtle dig at the elitism of the Democrats, who are leaving behind white voters who don't have a college degree.
On the anti-elitism front, I'm going to say that Ted Cruz won the night hands down. Speaking of people who support illegal or unfettered immigration, Cruz said, "I understand that when the mainstream media covers immigration, it doesn't often see it as an economic issue. But, I can tell you for millions — of Americans at home watching this, it is a very personal economic issue. And, I will say the politics of it will be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande. Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press."
Great audience reaction.
Immigration remains an issue that divides the GOP. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who had a better than usual debate night, said that the Hillary Clinton campaign was "doing high fives" over the hard line stances of Cruz and Trump (who advocates deportation of people here illegally). Given that the Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to consider a lower court's blocking of the president's executive orders on immigration, timing could make immigration a hot issue next year.
Rubio and feisty Rand Paul got into it over Rubio's tax plan that includes tax credits for low-income parents. Paul called the plan "giving people money they didn't pay [in taxes]" and a welfare transfer payment." He added, in what became his theme for the evening, "We have to decide what is conservative and what isn't conservative."
This simply gave Rubio an opening to make an impassioned plea for the family as the cornerstone of society. The closest he came to acknowledging Paul's question was to say that tax credit recipients will have paid payroll taxes. Paul also was the lone holdout against increased military spending. His stance merely gave the other candidates a chance to talk about the dangerous world in which we live.
Donald Trump is often seen as the most radical GOP candidate. Last night, it was Cruz, who actually called for "sound money" and mentioned Calvin Coolidge, who held a tight rein over spending and presided over a roaring economy. Yes, Calvin Coolidge! I was impressed.
I was also impressed that, when Cruz forgot one of the five government departments he would abolish, instead of pulling a Rick Perry Oops! moment, he simply mentioned the Department of Commerce twice.
Carly Fiorina had a good night, touting her plan for a three-page tax code, which sounds like even I could do my own tax returns. She also one-upped Donald Trump, who bragged about having met Vladimir Putin in a green room. “I have met Mr. Putin as well. Not in a green room for a show but in a private meeting," she said.
Fiorina clearly gets under Trump's skin. “Why does she keep interrupting everybody?” he asked peevishly. for this he was booed.
But it was Ohio Governor John Kasich who cornered the market on peevishness last night. He was like an angry Jack in the Box who constantly interrupted. He's been a hugely successful governor of Ohio, but last night was not his night.
On the issue of what he'd do in the event of a bank failure, Kasich said, “I would not let the people who put their money in there all go down … I would figure out how to separate out hard-working people and those who could afford to lose.” Republicans don't like the idea of government determining who are the hard-working people and who can afford to lose money. He was booed.
It was a bad night for Governor Kasich, but the rest of the field acquitted themselves well.
If the Clinton campaign was high-fiving last night, they are very foolish.
Even the weaker candidates by and large turned in good performances.
Here is a transcript.