The GOP Debates?

Excerpts from:  Steve Benen

Carson describes progressive taxation as ‘socialism’
By Steve Benen 09/17/15 11:23AM
For much of the summer, the political world has watched the race for the Republican presidential nomination with one candidate in the foreground. When will the Donald Trump bubble burst? Will it ever? Is there a point at which Trump’s lack of presidential qualifications will catch up with him?

Those questions have value, but note they can be applied just as easily to the guy right behind Trump in the polls.

Ben Carson, the retired physician who’s also never served a day in public office, has quietly built up a remarkable level of GOP support, despite the fact that he often seems to have no idea what he’s talking about.

Last night, for example, Carson argued that progressive taxation is itself evidence of “socialism.” From the transcript:
“It’s all about America. You know, the people who say the guy who paid a billion dollars because he had 10, he has still got $9 billion left, that’s not fair, we need to take more of his money. That’s called socialism. That doesn’t work so well.”
It fell to Donald Trump, of all people, to explain, “We’ve had a graduated tax system for many years, so it’s not a socialistic thing.”

This came before Carson’s bizarre and arguably dangerous rhetoric about vaccinations — an area he should understand better given his medical background.

Towards the end of the event, the Republican doctor added, “[W]hen someone comes along and says, ‘Free college, free phones, free this and that, and the other,’ they say, ‘Wow, that’s nice,’ having no idea that they’re destabilizing our position.”

Oh, good. The three-hour debate nearly wrapped up without an “Obamaphone” reference.


Rubio makes his pitch against gun laws
By Steve Benen 09/17/15 10:47AM
When the issue of gun violence came up briefly in last night’s Republican debate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) threw out a talking point I haven’t heard in a while.
“First of all, the only people that follow the law are law-abiding people. Criminals by definition ignore the law, so you can pass all the gun laws in the world, like the left wants. The criminals are going to ignore it because they are criminals.”
This generated applause, which is a shame, because it’s a terrible argument. Rubio’s pitch, in effect, is that there’s no point in passing gun laws to protect the public because “criminals by definition ignore the law.” But by that reasoning, why have any laws at all?

The far-right senator added that “the real issue is not what are people using to commit violence, but why are they committing the violence?”
“You can’t have a strong country without strong people, you cannot have strong people without strong values, and you cannot have strong values without strong families and the institutions in this country that defend and support those families.

“Today, we have a left-wing government under this president that is undermining all of the institutions and society that support the family and teach those values.”
I see. So, the United States experiences routine, deadly gun violence because of … what, marriage equality? Is that why gun deaths should be blamed on President Obama and his “left-wing government”?


Jeb sticks to his odd ‘I’m my own man’ line
By Steve Benen 09/17/15 10:06AM
Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with his brother’s and his father’s policy advisers. The former governor is running for president with the donor network created by his brother and his father. In recent months, the Floridian has benefited from fundraising campaigns launched by his mother, father, brother, and son.

And it’s against this backdrop that Jeb Bush likes to tell voters, “I’m my own man.” In fact, last night, he did it again.

In the debate, Hugh Hewitt reminded the GOP presidential hopeful about the overlap between his brother’s team and his own. Bush had an answer ready.
“Well, first of all, Hugh, if you’re looking at Republican advisers, you have to go to the last two administrations. That happened to be 41 and 43. So just by definition, if you’re — and many of the people here that are seeking advice from the foreign policy experts in the Republican side, they — they served in my dad’s administration, my brother’s administration. Of course that’s the case.

“But I’m my own man.”
There’s some truth to the fact that presidents (and would-be presidents) surround themselves with experienced personnel from previous administrations. Since the United States hasn’t had a Republican president whose last name wasn’t Bush in nearly three decades, there’s bound to be some overlap.

But the response has its limits, too. When President Obama put together his team, he drew upon veterans of Bill Clinton’s administration — the only other recent Democratic White House — but he also brought on board experts from academia, think tanks, and the private sector.

If Jeb Bush is going to prioritize experience, is he bound to have some veterans from his family’s team? Sure. But that doesn’t fully explain why Mr. I’m My Own My Man has surrounded himself almost completely with members of his father’s and brothers’ team — many of whom are discredited officials responsible for a series of catastrophic decisions, and who shouldn’t have any influence whatsoever over the future of American policymaking.


Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
When even conservative justices aren’t conservative enough
By Steve Benen 09/17/15 09:34AM
Over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) added a new line of attack to his offensive against his party’s Beltway establishment: the Republican presidential hopeful insisted that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts just isn’t far enough to the right.

In fact, the GOP senator, who was an enthusiastic Roberts booster in 2005, even criticized former President George W. Bush for his reluctance to “spend some political capital” in support of a genuinely right-wing nominee.

Jeb Bush was asked in last night’s debate whether Cruz was right, and though the former governor’s answer meandered a bit, Bush suggested he’d nominate different kinds of justices than his brother: “Roberts has made some really good decisions, for sure, but he did not have a proven, extensive record that would have made the clarity the important thing, and that’s what we need to do. And I’m willing to fight for those nominees to make sure that they get passed. You can’t do it the politically expedient way anymore.”

Cruz added in response:
“I’ve known John Roberts for 20 years, he’s amazingly talented lawyer, but, yes, it was a mistake when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. […]

“It is true that after George W. Bush nominated John Roberts, I supported his confirmation. That was a mistake and I regret that. I wouldn’t have nominated John Roberts.”
Watching this unfold last night, some viewers might have been left with the impression that Chief Justice Roberts is, well, retired Justice David Souter. One President Bush nominated a jurist who seemed conservative enough, but who turned out to approach the law from a center-left perspective, and then another President Bush did the same thing.

Except, that’s not even close to being true.


GOP debate puts vaccinations back in the spotlight
By Steve Benen 09/17/15 08:49AM
It’s bad enough when candidate debates feature bogus political information, but when the events convey misleading public-health information to the public, it’s arguably quite dangerous.

Earlier this year, vaccinations turned into an unexpected litmus-test issue for Republican presidential candidates after some GOP hopefuls made controversial comments on the issue. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, said, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He soon after added, “I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related.”

In the months that followed, to the delight of the Republican establishment, the issue faded and the candidates steered clear of the issue.

Now, however, it’s apparently back. In last night’s CNN debate, Jake Tapper told Ben Carson that Donald Trump has linked vaccines and autism. Citing Carson’s background as a medical professional, the moderator asked, “Should Mr. Trump stop saying this?” It seemed like an obvious opportunity for Carson to highlight his scientific expertise.

It didn’t turn out that way. From the transcript:
“Well, let me put it this way, there has — there have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.

“This was something that was spread widely 15 or 20 years ago, and it has not been adequately, you know, revealed to the public what’s actually going on. Vaccines are very important. Certain ones. The ones that would prevent death or crippling. There are others, there are a multitude of vaccines which probably don’t fit in that category, and there should be some discretion in those cases. But, you know, a lot of this is pushed by big government.”
From there, for reasons that didn’t make any sense, Carson started talking about taxes and the size of the federal workforce, which had no relation at all to a question about vaccines.

At which point, the entire discussion actually got worse.


Fiorina bests Trump while stumbling over facts

By Steve Benen 09/17/15 08:00

  • Most well-adjusted Americans who don’t cover politics for a living probably came to an important conclusion last night: there was simply no way to endure more than five hours of continuous Republican debating on CNN. And that means many news consumers woke up this morning wondering who “won” the night.

The political media has an answer. Carly Fiorina “crushed it.” She won “hands down.” She had a “breakout performance.” She “stepped up to the big stage on Wednesday night and won this debate.”

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin highlighted the exchange that generated the most attention of the night.
In one of several skirmishes, businesswoman Carly Fiorina — who did not qualify for the first debate — responded to recent remarks by Trump deriding her physical appearance.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina said.

The audience burst into massive applause in response, easily the loudest of the night. Trump, who seemed caught off guard by the explosive reaction to the field’s only female candidate, said that Fiorina “has a beautiful face” and is a “beautiful woman.”
In case it wasn’t obvious, Trump’s response was nearly as insulting as the comments that got him into trouble in the first place. Adding condescending misogyny to mean-spirited misogyny does not make a problem go away.

It was arguably the first time since the start of the campaign that Trump, the current GOP frontrunner, was caught off-balance and flat-footed. Time will tell whether, and to what degree, Republican primary voters cared, but many observers saw this debate as the event that may finally help burst the Trump bubble.

But while much of the political establishment seemed eager to applaud Fiorina’s debate “victory,” there was just one problem that’s been largely overlooked: much of what she said last night wasn’t true. Indeed, as a substantive matter, Fiorina, who’s running for president despite never having held public office, spoke with great confidence and poise, but generally seemed clueless.


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