The 2016 Fox GOP Debate: Extremism and Ignorance on Parade

© Josh Sager – August 2015

Yesterday, the Republican presidential field convened to showcase its ideas and battle for the support of the base (and, more importantly, donors). There were few surprises in this debate and this event did little other than to illustrate that the current GOP has completely divorced itself from objective reality. The GOP’s ideology has essentially imploded and turned into a nonsensical echo chamber, where Obama destroyed the economy, the only solution to illegal immigration is to create a giant wall, and social issues are the primary concerns of the American public.


The Fox debate contained just over an hour of content and, unlike in a traditional structured debate, candidates were given wildly different amounts of time to speak:

  • Trump spoke for approximately 10.5 minutes.
  • Bush spoke for approximately 8.5 minutes.
  • Cruz, Kasich, Huckabee, Carson, and Rubio spoke for approximately 6.5 minutes.
  • Christie and Walker spoke for about 6 minutes.
  • Paul spoke for less than 5 minutes.

The GOP candidates were asked a variety of questions, primarily dealing with their histories, economic vision, and proposals for immigration and national security. Unfortunately, their answers rarely progressed past the standards platitudes and talking points (ex. build a giant wall to block illegal immigration), and there was almost no substance on display. In addition to spouting non-specific policy platitudes and explaining away their historical deviations from GOP orthodoxy (ex. Trump’s support for Clinton), the candidates had opportunities to throw red meat to the base by explaining how anti-abortion they are (Huckabee won that one by arguing that fetuses should be given 5th and 14th Amendment rights) and by bashing Obama and Clinton (who were mentioned 44 times).

Numerous important issues were completely unmentioned. There were no questions or policy suggestions on the vitally important issues of climate change, equal pay voting rights, the minimum wage, protecting entitlements, college debt, or mass incarceration.

According to polling of right wing voters by Drudge, Trump absolutely dominated the other candidates. Trump was considered the winner of the debate by 38% of those polled, with Cruz coming in second at 15.5%. Carson, Rubio, and Paul received between 9 and 10% support, while no other candidate broke 5% (Christie finished dead last, with an embarrassing 1.4% of the voters saying he won the debate).


Ironically, Trump’s success in the debate came in spite of the fact that the moderators were clearly trying to scuttle his candidacy. From the outset, the moderators asked a series of leading question of Trump, such as asking him to justify a series of anti-woman comments he has been caught making, singling him out as the only candidate who won’t bow to the establishment and support the eventual nominee, and demanding that he explain why he once supported Clinton.

While the moderators’ questions were leading, they gave Trump ample opportunity to speak (ex. he was given more than double the talking-time than Paul) and allowed him to paint himself as the anti-establishment candidate who hates political correctness. These are favorable characteristics for the GOP base and, while they will almost certainly harm him within the party elite, they likely helped him with the base.

From a substantive perspective, the three best performers in this debate were Trump, Paul and Kasich. Each of these candidates had strong substantive policy moments that set them dramatically aside from the rest of the field.

Trump had an extremely substantive comment on campaign finance and actually made a very good point that most politicians know, but refuse to acknowledge in public:

Trump: I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

Questioner: So what did you get?

Trump: And that’s a broken system.

Questioner: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

Trump: “Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”

In this short exchange, Trump points out the problem with money in politics and, surprisingly, admits that the system is broken. Our politicians do not just take donations and walk away—they become dependent upon donors and must service their interests. In some cases, this means that they reduce those donors’ taxes, while, in others, it could result in them deregulating entire industries. This is particularly extreme within the right wing, and the GOP as a whole has spent the last several decades essentially living in the pockets of big money.

When asked about his decision to expand Medicare under ObamaCare, Kasich had an extremely good response:

Kasich: — first of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times. Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what? To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year…


Kasich: — to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life. Secondly, we are rehabbing the drug-addicted. Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addictions or problems. We now treat them in the prisons, release them in the community and the recidivism rate is 10 percent and everybody across this country knows that the tsunami of drugs is — is threatening their very families. So we’re treating them and getting them on their feet. And, finally, the working poor, instead of them having come into the emergency rooms where it costs more, where they’re sicker and we end up paying, we brought a program in here to make sure that people could get on their feet.

This argument by Kasich was one of the few substantive policy points made in the debate and he is entirely correct. It is far cheaper to provide mental health and addiction care to individuals using social welfare programs than to wait until their lives spiral out of control and they are incarcerated. While expanding Medicare does cost a lot of money (most of which the feds will reimburse the state for), it saves more money in the long term by reducing incarceration and catastrophic care costs. In fact, this argument is a perfect argument for a national single-payer or nationalized health care program—such programs would establish universal coverage and would be the most efficient ways of reducing high-cost catastrophic health costs.

Paul and Christie had a very long, and telling, exchange on civil rights and privacy. This exchange made up a bulk of both candidates’ talking time and involved Paul putting on a fairly robust defense of the Constitution against Christie’s fearmongering. Christie came out in support of big-intelligence collecting bulk data on Americans in hope that it could help prevent terrorist attacks, while Paul pointed out that such programs are clearly illegal.


Here is a short cut-out from this long exchange:

Paul: I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.


Christie: And — and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a — that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.” How are you supposed to know, Megyn?

Paul: Use the Fourth Amendment!

Christie: What are you supposed to…

Paul: Use the Fourth Amendment!

Christie: …how are you supposed to — no, I’ll tell you how you, look…

Paul: Get a warrant!

Paul is entirely correct, and Christie doesn’t even try to justify how the programs are legal under the Constitution. Christie’s whole argument amounts to “9/11, be afraid!!!” and is devoid of any real substance.

While Trump, Kasich and Paul made a few good points during this debate, those nuggets of truth were eclipsed by the mass of ignorance and extremism spewed out onto the stage. At the end of the day, the winners of the first GOP primary debate were Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as the positions taken by these candidates are almost certainly going to come back and bite them in the general election.

5 thoughts on “The 2016 Fox GOP Debate: Extremism and Ignorance on Parade

  1. A very good summary and analysis, as usual. I don’t have TV so I did not watch the “debate”. More like a series of soundbites, I think. My only difference of opinion revolves around the Christie-Paul exchange. It is easy to say “just collect records from terrorists” but not practical since if you know they are terrorists ahead of time you don’t need to collect records. I think both of them simplify a complex issue.
    Like the 2nd Amendment, the 4th Amendment is open to interpretation. i don’t see how collecting data on telephone calls (not the content, but the web of phone contacts) infringes on my rights to be secure in my possessions. The government still needs a warrant to tap a phone, but I do not think it should need a warrant to track calls since no content is involved. At the same time, private companies legally track all our calls. Why shouldn’t the government have access to that same information if the phone companies are collecting it anyway? Does not the collection of that day by the private business infringe my right to privacy?
    I do not see this as an issue. Perhaps someone could clue me in on how this is a problem?
    After a terror attack (or planning or attempt) would it not be to our benefit for law enforcement to be able to quickly determine any phine contacts the terrorist may have had. To see if a pattern emerges? Or to put other people under surveillance who may be associated with terrorists? I don’t see how this infringes on the 4th.


    • First, that metadata is actually very informative and poses an extreme privacy risk (ex. somebody calls an HIV testing clinic and gets a fairly long callback a week or so later, then immediately calls their doctor –> what do you think happened?). If you gt onto he radar of those in power (ex. civil rights leaders) they will be able to peel apart your digital life to find things that damage your reputation.

      Second, the NSA’s program is illegal and we can’t just tolerate violations of the Constitution, as that devalues the document.

      Third, the NSA has seriously abused their program by using data for wildly illegal functions. NSA supervisors set up a program where they secretly shared information with the DEA on suspected drug dealers and helped the DEA set up stings. Because they knew that this was illegal and inadmissible in court, the NSA instructed the DEA to conceal their involvement and lie to the courts when presenting it. In effect, they did the digital equivalent to breaking into a bunch of Americans’ houses, searching them secretly and illegally, then telling the police exactly who should be legally searched and giving them a “confidential informant” tip that would create probable cause for the legal search. In effect, they managed to completely destroy the 4th Amendment for these people while illegal operating an international spy program on American soil–to cover this up, the NSA committed perjury and suborned numerous DEA agents to also commit perjury and file false affidavits.

      Imagine that you have a family member who has a drug problem and you live in a bad neighborhood. You regularly call your brother, a couple of friends who have had a bad history, and a bunch of neighborhood shops. Then, one day, you decide to take a road trip down to Mexico or South America. If the NSA were to look at this, they would see you calling numerous drug-affiliated individuals, contacting shops suspected of laundering money, and setting up travel plans to go down south to an area of high drug activity. This puts you at the center of a possible drug conspiracy and could have led them to direct the DEA to stop you and seize your car. After taking the car apart and destroying your vacation, they MAY give it back to you, or they may just decide to seize it as the suspected products of a drug enterprise (CIvil asset forfeiture: ). Finally, when you take the DEA to court, they will refuse to tell you where they got the information that led them to search you, and will tell the judge that it was a confidential tip from an extremely reliable source who cannot be named for their own safety–your case will die and you won’t get justice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Josh, Thanks for the reply.
    Point 1. My understanding is that phone companies already have that megadata. If so, we are giving away privacy rights to private businesses who are under no obligation to the citizenry. Isn’t the risk of abuse of that metadata much greater in the hands of those who have only a profit motive and do not have to face public scrutiny? Could they not divulge or sell that info to potential employers, etc. ?The Bill of Rights does not seem to protect your privacy from those private businesses. As long as the data is being collected anyway I would prefer to have the data in the hands of those who have to respond to the voters at some point.
    2. I think the courts ruled it illegal under the Patriot Act, but did not rule it unconstitutional. Congress could pass a law allowing such collection and it would have to wind its way through the court system. We can never predict how the SCOTUS (especially this one) will end up on any issue.
    3. I agree that any metadata collection program should only be used to track suspected terrorists. I am not sure about the use of this to locate those who are otherwise violent. We need to balance public safety with personal freedom. For example, if the metadata lead the NSA to connect hate groups with a burning of a black church would that be an unwelcome result? Or, if they were able to prevent a terror attack based on this data?
    I would be opposed to using this data to track any non-violent criminal activity. And I totally agree with you that neither the DEA nor the NSA should be allowed to use anonymous information as evidence. That seems to directly contradict the concept that a person has the right to be confronted by his accusers. I have no idea how the courts have ruled on that. Sounds like an important legal issue. I have , for a very long time, thought that forfeiture programs are on their face unconstitutional and encourage false arrests. But, as I said, the SCOTUS evidently thinks otherwise.


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