Republicans smartly focus on issues
The first Republican primary debate on Wednesday evening was significant not just because the front runner, former President Donald Trump, failed to participate.
Also notable is what occurred because he wasn't there.
Absent Trump, the remaining candidates got down to the business of talking issues. The two-hour debate, presented by Fox News, may have devolved into some shouting matches, but it was remarkably devoid of the pettiness that the former president trades in.
The eight contenders – former Vice President Mike Pence; former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie; Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina; entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy; former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis; North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson – did not agree on much. They did (albeit grudgingly) admit that Pence did the right thing in certifying the 2020 election.
But there was no talk of Hunter Biden's laptop, Covid vaccine doubts, Disney World's politics or some of the conspiracy theories that candidates indulge in on the campaign trail. It was as though they all realized it was time to act presidential.
Instead, they aired real differences on issues that matter: how to rein in the inflationary economy; how to deal with adversaries like China and Iran; whether the federal government should regulate abortion; how to contain Vladimir Putin and whether we should help the Ukrainian people in their struggle to repel Russian invaders.
Most of the criticism aimed at President Biden, whether you agree with it or not, was substantive. The candidates contended his economic policies have been a failure; his response to the devastating fire in Lahaina, Maui, was disappointing; he hasn't done enough to secure the border with Mexico.
Interestingly, Haley had the temerity to acknowledge that the last administration, not Biden's, had pumped too much money into the economy. The idea that both parties need to get spending under control was a message startling for its honesty.
What emerged were two visions of the Republican future.
One was the classic GOP platform – a law-and-order, fiscally conservative, hawkish message that evoked Ronald Reagan, whose name came up several times.
The counterpoint, espoused especially by Ramaswamy, was an isolationist view in which Americans lock down their own borders and turn a blind eye to what's happening elsewhere in the world.
Because Ramaswamy is the youngest candidate (at 38), he likes to portray himself as a voice of the future. But his message could have been uttered by Charles Lindbergh in the lead-up to World War II. By declaring that America would frack and burn its way out of the energy crisis, he was akin to Nero tuning up his fiddle.
Indeed, the candidates seemed unable to articulate a vision for the future that does not include the past. Getting back to the way things were was a consistent theme.
Some candidates seem to think that global warming is a theory, not a fact, a creed that you either believe in or don't. But even those skeptical of it can't deny what is happening around us. It has been a summer of triple-digit temperatures, hurricane-fed wildfires and deadly flash floods.
But other than criticizing Biden for his Lahaina response, and suggesting China and India need to do more, the candidates had little new to say about climate change.
How would they help people in coastal areas where property is being eroded daily? What is their vision for the FEMA of the future? How can we cope with heat that is almost intolerable for human beings?
The candidates did agree that the country's education system needs reform, and Haley referenced the crisis in reading instruction. But we are skeptical that dismantling the federal Department of Education, funneling block grants to the states and breaking up teachers unions are two feasible or effective ideas.
Still, the point is that these candidates at least have a point of view and they are taking stands on issues. Although Pence did call Ramaswamy a “rookie,” no one made up a nickname for an opponent or attacked anyone personally. They were there to score points, but not to entertain. Each one had something to say that addressed an issue.
The result was that Republican primary voters have a better idea of what these candidates believe in, what they would do if elected, and how they react under fire. We should applaud the fact that this debate was not riddled with personal grievances, pettiness and name-calling.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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