Thursday, August 6, 2015

Live-blogging the first major Republican debate of the 2016 presidential race

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading for more updates.

Any quotes in this post will be written down on the fly, so they might not be verbatim, but I'll try to make them reasonably accurate.

[You can watch the whole thing here.]

[Here's a transcript of the debate — except with Jeb Bush's answer about belonging to an organization that funded Planned Parenthood mysteriously removed!]

[I missed about the first 8 minutes, so I went back and non-live-blogged it, with time stamps as if I had been watching live:]

9:03 — After introducing the candidates, the moderators in Cleveland remark that John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, has a "home-field advantage."

9:04 — Brett Baier starts with a "hand-raising question": Is anyone unwilling to pledge support for the eventual Republican nominee, and not to run as an independent? Donald Trump is the only one who raises his hand, and he's loudly booed. Baier comes back: "That would virtually hand the presidency to the Democratic nominee." Rand Paul says: "This is what's wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes. . . . He's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians."

9:06 — Megyn Kelly asks Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with no political experience, about his past errors in talking about world affairs. Carson says: "The thing that is probably most important is having a brain, and being able to figure things out, and learn things very rapidly." America didn't become a "great nation" by being "filled with politicians."

9:08 — Marco Rubio tries to tamp down concerns about his inexperience by saying the election "cannot be a resume competition . . . because if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton's going to be president, because she's been in government longer than anyone on this stage tonight."

[Here's where I started actually live-blogging:]

9:09 — Rubio: "If I'm the nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to attack me for not understanding people living paycheck to paycheck? I grew up living paycheck to paycheck! How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed $100,000 just 4 years ago!"

9:10 — Jeb Bush: "They call me Veto Corleone, because I vetoed 2500 separate line items in the budget." [I went back and corrected the number of line items.]

9:11 — Megyn Kelly asks Trump about how he calls women names like "fat pigs." Trump: "Only Rosie O'Donnell." Trump segues into saying the country has a "big problem" with "being politically correct." He doesn't have time for "total political correctness." Trump adds that he's been very nice to Megyn Kelly — "although I could probably not be based on the way you've treated me."

9:16 — Megyn Kelly asks Scott Walker if he'd really let a woman die rather than have an abortion, which he's suggested is his position. Walker doesn't directly answer the question, but bears down on his pro-life credentials.

9:18 — Mike Huckabee says he'd invoke the constitutional rights — equal protection and due process — of fetuses. We need to stop "ripping off their body parts and selling off their parts like they were a Buick."

9:20 — Megyn Kelly asks John Kasich why Republican voters should trust him after he accepted Obamacare's Medicaid funding. Kasich focuses on his program for prison inmates to treat their addictions and reenter society. Then he adds a flurry of facts about how he's actually shrunk government.

9:23 — Chris Wallace asks Bush about his past statement that illegal immigration is "an act of love." Bush says he still agrees: "They have no other options." Predictably, he pivots to talking about the need to secure the border and crack down on "sanctuary cities."

9:25 — Wallace asks Trump to "share your proof" of his assertion that Mexico is sending criminals to the US. "We need to build a wall, and it needs to be built quickly. And I don't mind having a big, beautiful door in that wall for people to immigrate legally." He doesn't give any proof, but repeats that "they send the bad people over."

9:30 — Kasich admits: "Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. They're fed up with what's happening in this country. For people who just want to tune him out, they're making a mistake. . . . Mr. Trump is touching a nerve because people want to see a wall being built."

9:32 — Rubio notes that most people crossing the Mexican border aren't Mexican. "This is the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration. We feel like despite our generosity, we're being taken advantage of." This seems like a smartly moderate way to frame the issue.

9:34 — Walker says what everyone has been saying: we need to secure the border, not allow amnesty, and promote legal immigration.

9:35 — Ted Cruz claims that most of the other candidates on the stage have "supported amnesty."

9:38 — Rand Paul: "I want to collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans." Chris Christie retorts: "That's a completely ridiculous answer. How are you going to know the difference?" Paul interrupts him: "You fundamentally don't understand the Bill of Rights!" Christie comes back that Paul likes to give speeches on the floor of the Senate to be able to put them on the internet to raise money for his campaign, while putting American lives at risk.

9:40 — Ted Cruz says President Obama won't even say the words "radical Islamic terrorist." Obama is "an apologist" for terrorism.

9:42 — Megyn Kelly asks how Bush can say "your brother's war was a mistake." He bears down: "Knowing what we know now, . . . it was a mistake. I wouldn't have gone in." He pivots to criticizing Obama for "abandon[ing] Iraq" and allowing ISIL to flourish.

9:44 — Megyn Kelly asks Ben Carson about waterboarding. "Well, thank you, Megyn, I wasn't sure I would get to talk again." To answer the question, he says: "I wouldn't necessarily broadcast what I'm going to do." He focuses on using the military's "tremendous intellect to win wars." Subtext: Don't worry about Carson's lack of political experience — he's really smart and would know how to delegate to smart experts.

9:46 — Trump is asked about some of his liberal views. He emphasizes that he was the only one on the stage to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning. Then he actually praises "single-payer health care," at least as it exists in other countries. Trump suggests that single-payer might have worked at one point in this country, but says that now he wants to reform the system in other ways. Paul: "I think you're on the wrong side of this if you're arguing for single-payer." Trump: "I think you misheard me. You're having a hard time with that."

9:49 — Trump is asked what he got from his donations to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. What he got from Clinton: "She came to my wedding."

9:50 — Brett Baier notes that Republicans keep promising to shrink government, but government keeps growing, even under Republican leaders.

9:52 — Carson would have "a proportional tax system" based on "tithing."

9:55 — A dull back-and-forth between Bush and Rubio about Common Core.

9:59 — Chris Wallace points out that Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the Democratic nominee, and he asks Kasich how he'll respond to her predictable attacks — that the Republican nominee wants to take the country backward. Kasich: "Economic growth is the key to everything. But once we have economic growth, it is important to reach out to people in the shadows — people who don't think they ever get a fair shake. And that includes minorities." (Our internet connection cut out at this point, so I didn't catch his whole answer.)

10:03 — Wallace asks Bush how he'll accomplish his plan of 4% economic growth and 19 million new jobs, which would be triple the number of new jobs under his dad and his brother combined. As with most of Bush's performance tonight, his answer seems solid and fact-filled but isn't particularly memorable.

10:05 — Walker: "Hillary Clinton thinks Washington creates jobs. I think most Americans understand that people create jobs."

10:08 — Huckabee absurdly declares that no one is on Social Security because they decided when they were young that they wanted to "entrust some of their money to the government."

10:10 — Wallace asks Trump about his statement: "I used the laws of this country to my advantage." Trump repeats: "I have used the laws of this country . . . to do a great job for my company." He admits that he did this four times by declaring bankruptcy. "I have a great, great company . . . and I am very proud of the job I did . . . and frankly, so has everybody else in my position." Wallace bears down by focusing on how lenders complained that they lost billions in the most recent bankruptcy of one of Trump's companies. Trump zeroes in on that reference to lenders: "These lenders, they're not little babies, these are not the nice, sweet people you think they are, Chris. They're killers. You know, you're living in a world of the make believe, Chris."

10:14 — Rubio, who hasn't gotten to talk for a while, reels off a lot of standard conservative positions: reduce taxes on small businesses, reduce business regulations, repeal and replace Obamacare, repeal and replace Dodd-Frank. Rubio has been giving a fine performance but doesn't seem to be doing anything to really stand out tonight.

10:16 — Walker would repeal the Iran deal on day 1, then put even more crippling sanctions in place. I'd say the same thing of Walker that I just said of Rubio.

10:17 — Paul on the Iran deal: "You should negotiate from a position of strength. President Obama gave away too much too early. . . . I would have never released the sanctions until there was evidence of compliance."

10:18 — Huckabee says Obama's approach to Iran, instead of "trust but verify," is "trust but vilify — trust our enemies, and vilify anyone who disagrees with him."

10:23 — Kelly asks Bush about the fact until late 2014, Bush sat on the board of the Bloomberg Foundation, which donated to Planned Parenthood. Bush denies knowing what the foundation was doing, then says: "My record as a pro-life governor is not in dispute."

10:25 — Kelly asks Rubio about his support for exceptions to abortion bans for rape or incest. Rubio has a deer-in-the-headlights look, and says he's "not sure" that's an accurate representation of his position. [ADDED: Politico says Rubio voted for a bill with those exceptions.]

10:26 — Kelly asks Trump about his past statement that he was pro-choice. She asks the elephant-in-the-room question: "When did you become a Republican?" "I've evolved on many issues. And you know who else evolved on many issues is Ronald Reagan."

10:28 — Trump responds to Bush's past attacks on his tone: "We don't have time for tone. We have to go out and get the job done."

10:31 — Paul: "I don't want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington."

10:32 — Walker is asked about racial bias in policing. "It's about training . . . particularly when it comes to use of force." There need to be "consequences" for the "few" who engage in misconduct. Walker is the only candidate who's asked about that issue. It's as if Fox News didn't really want to have a discussion about it but wanted to prevent people from saying they didn't talk about it.

10:38 — Trump: "If Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it, because it will quadruple."

10:40 — Baier asks Carson about Obama's infamous "red line" comment about Syria. Would Carson have taken military action against Syria? Carson avoids answering the question. "I would shore up our military first."

10:41 — Walker: "It's sad that the Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton's email server than the US Congress."

10:42 – Huckabee is asked about transgender people in the military. "The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things."

10:45 — Paul is asked why he used to want to cut foreign aid to Israel, then changed his mind. "We shouldn't send money to countries that hate us. Israel isn't one of those." But "we cannot give away money we don't have."

10:55 — Carson, asked about race relations: "When I take people to the operating room, I'm operating on what makes them who they are. Their skin doesn't make them who they are, and their hair doesn't make them who they are."

Notice: before the debate, everyone was worried that Trump was going to ignore the rules and talk over everyone. But he didn't. That was the dog that didn't bark.

11:00 — Cruz's closing statement: "My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend freedom because my family knows what it's like to lose it."

11:01 — Carson: "I'm the only candidate to take out half a brain, although if you've been to Washington, you might think someone else beat me to it."

11:02 — Walker brags that he's been called "aggressively normal."

11:03 — Bush complains that "we're not protecting and preserving our entitlement system." So he's positioning himself as the clearly moderate, establishment candidate.

11:04 — Trump predictably uses his closing statement to attack America's status quo: "We can't do anything right!"

Nicholas Kristof says:

I thought Trump was a loser in the Republican debate (though it's also true he got particularly tough questions) and lost stature. I thought Jeb Bush did okay. I thought two people did better than expected. One is John Kasich, who had two of the freshest answers of the evening, about poverty and about same-sex marriage. I doubt Kasich will be the nominee, but since he's from the swing state of Ohio he's a strong contender for running mate. Then I thought Marco Rubio also did well, speaking smoothly and articulately. The other candidates I thought mostly seemed to shrink on the stage. Actually, the people I was most impressed with were the questioners--bravo to them for asking tough, smart, provocative questions.
Here's a fact check of the debate.

Alex Knepper's take:
Winners: Kasich, Rubio, Christie, Trump, Paul

Losers: Jeb!, Walker, Carson, Huckabee, Cruz

Kasich was energetic, thoughtful, and also intriguing, since he still feels 'fresh,' as the last candidate to announce. I could see him drawing support away from the underwhelming and boring Jeb!, who at one point seemed like he actually lost his train of thought.

But no one was more boring than Walker, who mostly just blended in. Christie was the one who brought the fireworks -- but he also showed a willingness to distinguish himself from the others by promising to tackle entitlement reform. That could have been part of a winning message had he not imploded last year!

Paul actually got the better of the exchange with Christie over the NSA, much as it pains me to say. Paul did well for himself because he, too, distinguished himself from the others -- he owned his heterodox foreign policy stances proudly. Carson, on the other hand, looked amateurish not only on foreign policy but on policy generally. He really had no business being on that stage.

Neither did Trump, but he answered his questions about as well as he could have while still being true to his personality. He didn't shine, but he didn't say or do anything that would alienate his current supporters. If he did anything obviously wrong, it was that he too often seemed like he was yelling. Sure, he evaded his questions, but so did everyone, at some point. This was Trump's first time in the ring with successful national politicians and he held his own.

Rubio delivered solid answers to most of his questions, but did himself a disservice when he decided to fully own his Huckabee-style social conservatism, ranting about "murdering babies" and the "barbarism" of our age. Cruz was surprisingly restrained and felt increasingly irrelevant as the debate went on -- which is a good way to describe his campaign generally, so far.