Wednesday’s Republican debate wasn’t structured in a way to get candidates to talk about what they would do if they were elected president. Its aim was to get them to attack one another.
Most of the questions posed by Jake Tapper and the other moderators were giving Candidate A a quote from Candidate B and asking Candidate A’s reaction. It was three hours of Republican fratricide. Only in the last 20 minutes did the moderators present some open questions that allowed the candidates to state some of their own views.
Here are eight issues that were missing from the debate.
1. President Obama. There was not one question about President Obama. No candidates were asked what they thought of him, what mistakes he has made, how they would do better. One question would have been: “What do you think of the Iran deal?” Another would have been: “Why has America’s labor force participation rate continued to fall during the economic recovery?” But no such questions were asked.
2. Hillary Clinton. Neither were there questions about Hillary Clinton, still the Democratic front-runner. Some people running a debate might ask whether the Republican candidates would use a private server in their homes; what they thought of Benghazi; how donations to the Clinton Foundation could be linked to Hillary’s actions as secretary of state; how Hillary would pay for free college education. Nothing, not a word.
3. Bernie Sanders or other Democratic candidates. Missing from the debate were any questions about Bernie or his economic policies. What do the candidates think of higher minimum wages and higher taxes, and would these have any effect on the economy? How about Martin O’Malley, who thinks that he is a viable candidate for president even though he raised taxes over 40 times as governor of Maryland, and lost his bright blue state to deep red Republican Larry Hogan?
4. Tax policy. If CNN wanted to shield Democrats from attacks, how about asking Republicans about substantive issues, such as tax policy? Gov. Huckabee managed to slip in his fair-tax proposal, but there was no opportunity for Sen. Rubio and Gov. Bush to duke it out on their interesting tax-reform plans. Would a top tax rate of 35% with a child tax credit (Rubio) be preferable to a top rate of 28% with limits on the mortgage-interest deduction? Would elimination of the capital-gains tax rate (Rubio) supercharge growth more than a 20% rate (Bush)? Those interesting issues, worthy of debate, were all ignored.
5. Minimum wage. One of the biggest questions is the size of the minimum wage. It came up indirectly, but it would have been good to ask all candidates a direct question. Where do they stand on it, and how do they think it affects employment opportunities? Is it right to have a higher minimum wage for fast-food workers, as is the case in New York City? Should collectively bargained agreements be allowed an exemption from higher minimum wages in order to give unions more power to organize large employers, as is the case in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Milwaukee and Chicago?
6. Regulatory policy. Rubio managed to bring up the substantial costs of environmental regulation and their effects on American families, but the rest of the overregulation of the economy was left untouched. What do candidates think about the sharing economy that Hillary wants to eliminate? How about the National Labor Relations Board’s proposal to make parent companies joint employers with franchises? This small step for the NLRB but large step for small business will affect millions of business owners, many of whom were watching the debate. How about regulation of Internet — would candidates continue it or roll back the misnamed “network neutrality”?
7. Education. Millions of children are trapped in failing schools, unable to move to better ones. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval recently allowed parents to move their children to other schools, both private and public. Would candidates follow Sandoval’s example? One reason for these failing schools is that it is difficult to fire unqualified teachers because of tenure rules and union pressure. What do the candidates think about that? Another reason is that the culture of fatherless families and out-of-wedlock births in the black community means that children don’t have the family support they need to succeed in school. Do candidates think that this is a problem, and how would they deal with it?
8. Alternatives to Obamacare. Candidates have said that they would eliminate Obamacare on Day 1. How would they replace it? Would they move to refundable tax credits where people could buy their own insurance? Would candidates support getting rid of the tax break for employer-provided health insurance, which prevents the development of a flourishing market for private health insurance, the same way as one exists for life insurance and car insurance?
Next month CNN will host the Democratic candidates. They will likely ask them what they think of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina. They won’t ask Bernie what he thinks of Hillary, or what Hillary thinks of Bernie. It won’t be fratricide; it will be all together against Donald, Marco, Jeb and Carly. If the Democratic Party leadership had been trying to script CNN’s debate, they could not have done a better job.