Thursday, March 10, 2016

Live-blogging the last scheduled Republican primary debate of 2016

I'll be live-blogging the last scheduled Republican primary debate of 2016 — which is also the last scheduled debate of either major party. Keep reloading this post for updates.

As always, I'll be doing this without a pause/rewind button, so my quotations might not be word-for-word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might or might not go back and correct some of them later.

For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, or the New Republic.

8:56 — The candidates walk out and stand next to each other in this order: John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio. When Trump walks up to Cruz, they shake hands and Trump pats Cruz on the back. When Rubio walks up to Trump, those two have no eye contact or interaction of any kind.

8:57 — The moderator, Jake Tapper, leads a moment of silence in memory of Nancy Reagan. Most of the candidates do the usual looking down with their eyes closed — but Trump alternates between closing his eyes, and looking around the room.

8:58 — Finally, a nice subdued, soothing rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" instead of the usual showy, virtuosic versions.

9:01 — In his opening statement, Cruz says the election isn't about "insults" or "attacks" — an obvious reference to Rubio and Trump.

9:02 — Trump says, in his opening statement: "One of the biggest political events anywhere in the world is going on with the Republican party" — massive turnout of people who are "voting out of love." "The whole world is talking about it — it's very exciting." He urges "the Republican establishment" to "embrace what's happening." Trump seems to be using his relatively measured, diplomatic tone so far in this debate.

9:03 — Surprisingly, Tapper asks the first question of Kasich. (Usually the first question goes to one of the frontrunners.) Tapper asks if Kasich's views on trade put "the board room" over the middle class. Kasich says: "When countries cheat and take advantage of us, we need to blow the whistle."

9:05 — Tapper asks Trump why we should believe he'll change the system when he's taken advantage of it in his businesses. "Because nobody knows the system better than me."

9:07 — Tapper asks Cruz about his flip-flop on the "Pacific trade deal." Cruz says Tapper is confusing the TPP with the TPA; what matters is the TPP, which Cruz has consistently opposed. Cruz says he'll protect workers with a tax plan that "will not tax exports and will tax imports."

9:11 — Rubio is asked about the H-1B visa program. Rubio focuses on cracking down on companies that abuse the program.

9:12 — Kasich: "I'd maybe be running for President of Croatia if we didn't have immigration."

9:13 — Trump again distinguishes between what he's done in business and what he'd do as president, calling the H-1B visa program "something that I frankly use, and we shouldn't be allowed to use. . . . I'm a businessman, and it's sitting there waiting for you." He calls for pausing it for one or two years.

9:15 — Cruz seems to be trying to win over Trump supporters by talking tough on immigration: "We're going to build a wall; triple border control; end sanctuary cities; and end welfare for people who are here illegally."

9:16 — Rubio virtually admits that his immigration plan would not have allowed his parents to immigrate, but he says this is necessary because of how the economy has changed.

9:17 — Tapper asks Trump what exactly he objects to about Common Core. "Education through Washington, DC. I don't want that. I want local education." Trump slips in the news that former candidate Ben Carson is going to endorse him tomorrow.

9:18 — Kasich is asked about his previous statement that opposition to Common Core is "hysteria." Kasich sums up his position as: "Local control — high state standards."

9:20 — Cruz says in one of his first days in office, he'll issue an executive order saying: "Common Core ends that day." And he'll abolish the Department of Education.

9:23 — Now the topic is Social Security. Rubio calls for gradually raising the retirement age to 70 — otherwise, "we will have a debt crisis," in which the vast majority of the budget is spent on "Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt."

9:25 — Trump, asked about Social Security, starts by talking about the Democrats: "I've been watching them very, very intensely, even though that's a very boring thing to watch." As for Social Security, he says he wants to "leave it the way it is, not raise the retirement." His plan to deal with the debt is just to grow the economy and cut "waste, fraud, and abuse." The moderator, Dana Bash, shoots back that Social Security abuse is only about $3 billion, yet we'd need to save $150 billion to make the program solvent. Trump says we'll "bring wealth back to our country" by making "deals" with other countries, e.g. about our military bases.

9:28 — Rubio joins in Bash's point that Trump's "numbers don't add up." "We'd better deal with it, or we're going to have to explain to our children how we allowed this disaster." Trump bears down: "We're going to bid out on virtually every facet of government — we're going to save a fortune!"

9:31 — Cruz says: "The answer can't just be: wave a magic wand and say: 'Problem, go away!'" He doesn't mention Trump — he says that's Hillary Clinton's plan. Dana Bash asks: "Did you just compare Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton?" Cruz won't answer, but he makes it clear he's ribbing Trump by dismissing the idea of "some fanciful 'waste, fraud, and abuse'" — Trump's favorite phrase when it comes to the debt. [VIDEO.]

9:34 — Trump says Cruz flip-flopped on ethanol, and then Cruz brings up his attack on Trump from the last couple debates: that Trump has been "funding" liberals. Trump doesn't take the bait to ramp up his attacks on Cruz. Instead, Trump tones it down: "We're going to come up with solutions. And so far, I cannot believe how civil it's been up here!" [VIDEO.]

9:36 — Kasich says on Social Security, we need to "innovate," not "cut."

9:40 — Cruz goes after Trump's proposal for tariffs: "A tariff is a tax on you, the American people." And that's just the direct effect of the tax; the indirect effect is that other countries would respond with their own tariffs, further increasing prices for Americans. Trump tries to allay those concerns by saying his proposal for a 45% tariff is just "a threat" of what we'd do if other countries "don't behave." Trump says it's "just the opposite" of what Cruz says: if we do impose those tariffs, we'll start manufacturing goods in the US, which will boost our economy.

9:47 — Trump is asked about his recent statement, "Islam hates us." Does he mean all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world? "I mean a lot of 'em! . . . There's something going on. . . . There's tremendous hatred, and I will stick with what I said." [VIDEO.] Rubio responds: "I know that people find a lot of appeal in what Donald says, because he says what people wish they could say. The problem is: presidents can't just say what they want." Rubio suggests that Trump's statements as a candidate may have already harmed America's image in the world. Trump stands his ground: "I don't like to be politically correct. I like to solve problems. . . . We'd better solve the problem before it's too late." Rubio: "I'm not interested in being politically correct; I'm interested in being correct!" [VIDEO.]

9:52 — Trump is asked about his statement that we should "take out the families of terrorists." Trump switches to talking about how we have a law against waterboarding, and we have to obey the laws, but ISIL doesn't obey any laws, so we should "expand our laws." That doesn't really answer the question about terrorists' families.

9:55 — Cruz dismisses Trump: "We've never targeted innocent civilians" (really? I want a fact check on that!) "and we're not going to start now." Cruz segues into emphasizing the foreign-policy areas where Trump has seemed less than conservative: saying he won't tear up the Iran deal, and saying he'd be "neutral" on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

9:57 — Trump insists that he's "very pro-Israel," and the crowd moans and boos. He points out: "I happen to have a daughter and a son-in-law that are Jewish." He uses the same argument he used in a recent debate: that he'd present himself as neutral in order to make a deal. If this issue didn't hurt him in past primaries, I don't think it's going to hurt him in the future.

9:59 — Cruz virtually devolves into baby talk when going after Trump: "The answer is not to yell: China bad! Muslims bad!" [VIDEO.]

10:03 — Now they're talking about ISIL. I'm not finding this very interesting, because they're just rehashing what they've said in many prior debates. They can't say anything other than that they'd do whatever is necessary to destroy ISIL. I don't think Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would take issue with that.

10:07 — Rubio talks about a veteran who committed suicide after calling a VA suicide hotline and getting sent to voicemail. Rubio brings up his support for the VA Accountability Bill. In a rare moment for a Republican primary debate, Rubio says: "I'll give him credit, Bernie Sanders was a part of this!"

10:13 — Rubio and Trump go back and forth on Cuba, with Rubio taking a hard line and Trump focusing on making a "deal" with Cuba. The crowd cheers Rubio and grumbles in response to Trump. Cruz pounces on Trump's statements, saying Trump wants to be like President Obama but just make "a little bit better deals."

10:19 — Tapper asks Rubio if he'll "acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus of climate change." Rubio says, yeah, "the climate is always 'changing'!" But "there's no such thing" as "a law we can pass in Washington to change the weather." The cost of climate-change legislation would be "rammed down the throat of the American consumer," and have "zero" effect on the environment. "America's not a planet — it's a country."

10:22 — Kasich admits that "we contribute to climate change." He seems to be trying to chart a complex middle path.

10:26 — Tapper insinuates that Trump tends to support authoritarianism, based on his comments about Vladimir Putin and Tiananmen Square. Trump clarifies that he said China was "strong" in Tiananmen Square, but that isn't an endorsement — it was "horrible." [VIDEO.] Kasich comes on strongly about Tiananmen Square, saying we should build a statue to the iconic but unknown man who stood in front of a Chinese tank. That's nice, though I don't think being on the right side of history about something that happened in 1989 is going to help Kasich get more delegates in 2016.

10:33 — Trump is asked if he's set a "tone" that encourages violence at his rallies. Trump says, "I hope not," then segues into talking about the "anger" that he's seen among the American people. Tapper quotes Trump's recent statements at rallies, like "I'd like to punch him in the face," and "Knock the crap out of him . . . I promise I'll pay for the legal fees!" Trump doesn't apologize, but focuses on how violent some of the protesters are and the fact that they're often dealt with by "the police." [VIDEO.]

10:35 — Cruz is asked what he thinks about Trump's rallies. Cruz seems to hesitate on this. "We need to show respect for the people." Cruz contrasts this with Obama, who sees himself as "an emperor." He finally comes back to Trump, criticizing him for having his audience raise their hands in a pledge of loyalty to Trump. "That is exactly backwards! We're in a job interview — we should pledging loyalty to you!" Trump lambastes the media for comparing his mass pledge to "Nazi Germany."

10:39 — Rubio takes the question about Trump's rallies as an opportunity to blandly express concern about "violence in general in our society." Rubio also adopts Obama's tack of invoking the moon landing as a symbol of how "anything's possible" in America.

10:40 — Hugh Hewitt asks Kasich about the fact that it seems like the only way he could be nominated would be through a contested convention, not by winning the majority of delegates. Shouldn't the nominee be whoever has the plurality? Kasich talks about how in school, if you got 86%, you got a B — you didn't get an A just because the people with 84% got a B!

10:42 — Trump: "I'm gonna have the delegates, OK?" He points out that two of them have some chance of getting a majority, and two of them don't. "That is not meant to be a criticism; that is just a mathematical fact."

10:43 — Cruz says it would be an "absolute disaster" to "parachute in" Washington's favorite nominee. Of course, he agrees with Trump that they're the only two who have a shot at earning the nomination outright. But he says: "If we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins!"

10:45 — Trump impersonates Cruz saying: "I'm the only one who beat Donald in 6 contests!" Trump points out: "I beat him in 13 contests — he never mentions that!"

10:45 — Rubio admits he's been disappointed with the primary results, but says he's inspired to keep going by a man who's supposed to stay indoors to recover from surgery, but keeps standing outside polling places with a sign saying "Marco Rubio."

10:46 — Trump is asked if he'll pledge not to take "outside contributions" throughout the whole election. He says he hasn't made that decision yet — he's only self-funding during the primaries. (He's only taking "small" donations.)

10:50 — Rubio is asked about how he mocked Trump in the last debate for being "flexible." Won't the next president need to be flexible to get things done with Congress? "You can be flexible about your ideas; you shouldn't be flexible about your principles." Boring!

10:58 — In what might be his last closing statement, Kasich says he's run "an unwavering positive campaign," which his kids can be proud of (unlike some people).

11:00 — Rubio, in his closing statement: "America is great because each generation before it did what needed to be done."

11:01 — Cruz talks about how great is it that "the son of a bartender [Rubio] and the son of a mailman [Kasich] and the son of a dishwasher [Cruz] and a successful businessman [Trump] can all stand on this stage and run for President of the United States." He previews his attack against Hillary Clinton in the general election: "Madam Secretary, you are asking for a third term of a failed administration."

11:02 — Trump uses his closing statement to tell us: "The next president could appoint 3, 4, maybe 5 Supreme Court Justices." If that's done by a Democratic president, "it could take centuries to recover." "Unify! Be smart and unify!" That's probably the smartest thing he could say at this point.

After his closing statement, Trump turns to his right, toward Cruz, and says: "Great job! Great job!" Trump shakes hands with Cruz and Kasich. Then, Trump turns to his left and shakes hands with Rubio in a more business-like way. Trump and Rubio don't make strong eye contact, but they do shake hands, and Trump pats Rubio on the back, as he did with Cruz at the beginning of the debate. Trump and Rubio walk away from the podiums together, both looking straight ahead, not at each other. They've spent the last couple weeks lodging blistering attacks against each other, but they both must know by now that there isn't much more they can do. This debate was far more civilized than the other recent Republican debates. After a primary season filled with many moments of indignity, these candidates are all walking off with dignity tonight.


Jonathan Graehl said...

"The problem is: presidents can't just say what they want." Rubio suggests that Trump's statements as a candidate may have already harmed America's image in the world. Trump stands his ground: "I don't like to be politically correct. I like to solve problems. . . . We'd better solve the problem before it's too late." Rubio: "I'm not interested in being politically correct; I'm interested in being correct!"

Rubio contradicts himself badly here. Not so bright. He must have been saving that line and fired it ineptly / inaptly.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Good point.

Theranter said...

Thank you for live-blogging--I couldn't bring myself to watch it!

rcocean said...

"Trump insists that he's "very pro-Israel," and the crowd moans and boos."

Really? who's in the audience?

rcocean said...

Glad that Trump stood his ground. Democrats love it when republicans talk about cutting social security or raising taxes.

Winefred said...

"You can be flexible about your ideas; you shouldn't be flexible about your principles." Boring!

Your response to this simple statement of public morality tells us so much about you, whoever you are.

John Althouse Cohen said...

It's a fine statement as far as it goes, but in the real-world context, when these candidates are fighting to get enough delegates to become the Republican presidential nominee, I don't think platitudes like that go very far.

Jonathan Graehl said...

To voice an obvious tautology you risk seeming condescending or boring. It's thrilling as the climax of an evisceration where you demonstrate the violation of the obviously-true thing by your opponent. Rubio didn't do that.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Visitor from Althouse here. Excellent write-up, thorough and factual. Good writing and reporting. I'll be back.

Ruth H said...

I stopped in from the Althouse link. I keep wondering why commentators, and commenters, do not mention that in this debate the newspeople do not offer questions encouraging the candidates to attack each other. They used no accusatory tones and offered no accusatory questions. I wonder why the candidates put up with that for so long.

minneh kamau said...