Missing Words: What the GOP Candidates Didn’t Debate or Talk About is Telling


091515debateAmericans are pretty interested in these Republican presidential debates. Last night’s at the Reagan Library appears to be the highest-rated event in CNN’s history. So whatever else the debates are for the GOP, they are an opportunity to present to millions of voters a modern vision about growth, opportunity and shared prosperity in a changing US economy. And talk about a news hook. The Census Bureau yesterday released new figures — whatever their flaws— showing continued middle-class income stagnation.

Yet the “middle” class was mentioned just four times vs. 10 times for the “Middle East.”

“Parent” — as in “single parents,” for instance — was mentioned just three times vs. 23 times for Planned Parenthood.

Creating economic “growth” was mentioned just five times vs. seven times for building an anti-immigrant “wall.”

No mentions of “health” in the context of replacing Obamacare. No talk about “college” affordability. And this was pretty much it for “opportunity.” Jeb Bush on immigration: “We’re at a crossroads right now. Are we going to take the Reagan approach, the hopeful optimistic approach, the approach that says that, you come to our country legally, you pursue your dreams with a vengeance, you create opportunities for all of us?”

Recall the exit poll after the 2012 presidential election that showed people really looking for empathy in a candidate backed President Obama over Mitt Romney by a whopping 81 – 18%. To the extent that perception about the GOP holds, did last night’s debate change or solidify it? Granted, the moderators did Republicans no favors in questions or topics. But smart politicians can turn most any question into a chance to speak about the favored issues. Maybe next time …

Published in Economics
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  1. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt

    As the field diminishes it will be more appropriate to have more substantive discussions on economic policy. At present, it’s a sound bite contest. When the field gets down to about four or five viable candidates this will be more possible.

    The debate last night, if it did anything, served the purpose of showing who on stage was knowledgeable and had a commanding presidential temperament and bearing. It’s safe to say that maybe four people emerged displaying those qualities – Rubio, Fiorina, Christie and Jindal (in the earlier debate). The others, not so much.

    • #1
  2. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter

    James Pethokoukis: anti-immigrant “wall.”


    • #2
  3. Ralphie Inactive

    It wasn’t a debate.  They could have split up into two groups, 5 and 6, Trump in one, Carson in the other, 1.5 hours each and had better discussions.

    • #3
  4. RyanFalcone Member

    That “anti-immigrant” smear makes it hard to take the rest of the fine post seriously. I’m so tired of such stupidity. Such nonsense is unacceptable.

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge

    James Pethokoukis: Creating economic “growth” was mentioned just five times

    Politicians do not create growth. They can enable it, or obstruct it. Government’s primary relationship to economic growth is parasitical in nature.

    • #5
  6. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee

    The candidates don’t really want to talk about anything substantive.  Too many of them on stage to really get into anything more than canned questions and answer, when they even bothered to answer the question they were asked.  Some of them even seemed to be whining.  Seriously not impressed by most of the field.  Ms. Fiorina seemed to me to be the best of the lot last night.  And Mr. Trump of course.  I don’t take him as anything like a viable candidate but I think he has done more to revive interest in the electoral process than anyone else in recent history.  He’s certainly shaking things up.

    • #6
  7. Ray Kujawa Coolidge
    Ray Kujawa

    While taking advantage of the interest in Republican candidates to the benefit of CNN’s advertisers, your breakdown, James, of the emphasis of issues covered vs. relatively ignored confirms for me that CNN is still basically shilling for the Democrats, i.e., avoiding issues that would embarrass the Democratic party candidate, and instead focusing on issues that more likely foment fear and concern amongst Democratic voters. To a lesser extent, I felt like they were looking to get pairs of candidates to mix it up and self-destruct. But I also felt that they avoided many important issues and avenues for discussion. Many questions seemed to be wasted on this crop of candidates. So Brian, I wouldn’t hold my breath about getting more substantive in future debates, not if they’re on CNN.

    • #7
  8. Could be Anyone Member
    Could be Anyone

    1) According to the Constitution the (executive branch) President’s primary function is to deal with matters of foreign policy and execute the laws created. The (legislative branch) Congress affects domestic Policy first and foremost according to the Constitution.

    2) As already stated by iWe government ought to restrain itself and its power to a large measure with economic factors. Government is the club that protects all other clubs and exacts a fee with force and consequences. It is categorically negative to production in terms of enabling it, it’s purpose is to secure a lack of coercion, fraud, and damage of war so that individuals can pursue their goals whether collectively or individually.

    3) (related to point 2) Some economic talking points really erk me as misnomers. Middle class reminds me of Marx and the proletariat with how we speak of it. Today we refer to the middle class as the working class (just as Marx referred to the Proletariat as the working class). We say that the American Dream (what all Americans allegedly aspire to) is that of the middle class (therefore the Proletariat life is the ideal life). Even the term middle sounds compromising and holistic, as if to overcome and subjigate all (like the proletariat does according to Marx is the unknown future).

    The fact is that we are all individuals and our livelihoods fluctuate constantly. There are no classes, just humans attempting to live life as best they can.

    4) Talking about economic terms does not inherently endear a person emotionally to a candidate. Their choice of words and delivery do. Barack Obama’s main point of victory wasn’t that he made himself personable but that he made Mitt Romney (a man who for all intents and purposes I doubt has ever held a firearm, let alone shot one) seem like a corporate fat cat villain that didn’t care. Since most people see the world as black vs white (opposites against another), especially in politics, they made the ignorant assumption that Barack did care (after all he had ran the first time on hope and change right?).

    • #8
  9. genferei Member

    If your focus is on making things easier for the ‘middle’ class and you think ‘college’ affordability is important you’re doing conservatism wrong.

    There, I said it.

    • #9
  10. Inwar Resolution Inactive
    Inwar Resolution

    I wholeheartedly agree with your premise, James.  As Arthur Brooks explained in his latest book, “First let them know that you care.”

    CNN undoubtedly crafted the format to be a circular firing squad with questions designed to make candidates look hawkish, intolerant and heartless.  Republicans need to rise above that and communicate how their policies will make people’s lives better.

    • #10
  11. Bigfoot Coolidge

    James Pethokoukis: anti-immigrant “wall.

    anti ILLEGAL immigrant wall

    • #11
  12. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold

    Carly did and regularly does and she is smart enough to know that using economic arguments doesn’t work with a population that is economically illiterate by choice.   She says why it’s being crushed and how to fix it.  https://www.carlyforpresident.com/answers/

    • #12
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