The Next President: The January Debates

The next chapter will focus on six issues this year as the country chooses its next president. Postings on this blog in October, November and December of last year introduced the focus issues and summarized TNC’s take. The candidates in both political parties had an opportunity this month to express their views on these issues.

Where do they stand?

the next chapter's Six Focus Issues:
On immigration:—Do you favor immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship?
On health care:—Do you support the ACA and efforts to improve or expand it?
On the Iran nuclear deal:—Do you support the nuclear agreement with Iran?
On climate change:—Do you believe that human activity is largely responsible for climate change and do you favor regulation of emissions?
On the minimum wage:—Do you support increasing the federal minimum wage?
On campaign finance:—Do you support campaign finance reform?

The Republicans

Immigration

At the Republican candidates’ debate in North Charleston, South Carolina, on January 14, the moderators (Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business News) did not ask a single question about immigration reform. None of the candidates had anything to say about the issue, except Donald Trump, who referred to illegal immigration as “beyond belief.”

The moderators asked frontrunner Trump to comment on his previous statements about banning Muslims from entering the country. Trump reaffirmed his position that Muslims should be “temporarily” excluded until “we find out what’s going on.”

Ted Cruz, running a close second in most current polling, said that if he were president “we will not let in refugees from countries controlled by ISIS or Al Qaida.” The moderators did not follow up by asking whether the ban would be permanent and whether it would apply to everyone, young or old, Muslim or Christian, attempting to flee from jihadi persecution. Nor was he asked to identify the countries that are “controlled by ISIS or Al Qaida.”

The question about the proposed banning of Muslims is only indirectly related to the immigration focus issue, and yet it could have afforded a candidate the opportunity to express an opinion about immigration reform—but none of the candidates took this opportunity.

Health Care

Although the moderators did not ask any questions about the Affordable Care Act or about the health care system in the United States, several candidates criticized “Obamacare.” Trump said: “Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it.” Marco Rubio chimed in, calling “Obamacare” a “certified job killer.” He said that it needs to be repealed and replaced, but he offered no ideas about the kind of health care program that he would propose. Cruz said that his proposed 16% business flat tax would enable Congress “to abolish…the Obamacare taxes.”

Negotiating with Iran

Trump and Cruz made no comments regarding Iran or the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. Rubio disparaged “cut[ting] deals with our enemies like Iran.” Jeb Bush proposed re-imposing sanctions on Iran for testing medium-range missiles. Chris Christie criticized Obama for letting our military “diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.” It is unclear whether Christie would favor negotiation with “tinpot dictators,” but TNC assumes that he is opposed.

Climate Change

The moderators did not ask a single question about climate change. None of the candidates mentioned the issue.

Minimum Wage

No questions were asked about raising the federal minimum wage. Cruz noted that “median wages have stagnated.” John Kasich suggested that his economic program would “give confidence to the job creators and you will begin to see wages rise.” Christie said that middle-class wages have gone “backwards $3,700 during the Obama administration,” and he proposed rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Cruz said his flat tax plan “produces economic growth” and “raises wages.” None of the candidates proposed raising the minimum wage.

Campaign Finance

No questions were asked about campaign finance reform, and the candidates offered no comments on the issue.

The Democrats

Immigration

At the Democratic candidates’ debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 17, moderators Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News asked no questions about immigration reform. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton mentioned in her opening statement that “there’s a lot we have to do on immigration reform” but she did not say what. Bernie Sanders did not mention immigration. Martin O’Malley perceptively noted during his closing comments: “We have not fully discussed immigration reform and the deplorable number of immigrant detention camps that our nation’s now maintaining.”

Health Care

Sanders said that health care for “every man, woman and child” as a “right” was his top priority. He proposed a Medicare-for-all program that would “provide health care to all people, get private insurance out of health insurance, lower the cost of health care for middle class families by 5,000 bucks.”

Clinton said that she did not want to see Republicans repealing the Affordable Care Act and she did not want “to see us start over again with a contentious debate.” She said that to “tear up” the ACA and “start over again” was the “wrong direction.”

Sanders replied that he has not proposed tearing up the ACA—legislation that he helped to write. Clinton pointed out that during the debate on the ACA, even with Democrats “in charge of Congress,” there were not enough votes to pass a “public option” that would have allowed people to buy into Medicare.

Negotiating with Iran

Sanders said he had strongly supported the nuclear agreement with Iran, which was a “positive step.” Clinton said she was “very proud of the Iran nuclear agreement,” claiming credit for “getting those sanctions imposed which put the pressure on Iran” and “brought them to the negotiating table which resulted in this agreement.” She said, however, that “we have to be sure that they are truly going to implement the agreement” and “we have to go after them on a lot of their other bad behavior in the region which is causing enormous problems in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.”

Climate Change

The candidates were asked how they would “convince Americans that the problem of climate change is so urgent that they need to change their behavior?” O’Malley, calling climate change the “greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in 100 years,” touted his plan to move the country to a 100% “clean electric grid” by 2050. Sanders said “the debate is over, climate change is real.” He said that we need to “transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.” The moderators cut off Clinton before she responded to the question. She raised no objection and offered no comments on the issue of climate change.

Minimum Wage

Sanders advocated raising the minimum wage to “at least $15 per hour.” O’Malley also called for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Clinton said that she would propose to Congress that the minimum wage should be raised, but she offered no specific proposal.

Campaign Finance

In his opening statement, Sanders said: “we have a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires are spending extraordinary amounts of money to buy elections.” Clinton said “there’s a lot we have to do…on campaign finance reform.” She said she was for “huge campaign finance reform.”

In his closing remarks, Sanders returned to the issue of campaign finance reform: “Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy.” He proposed “getting rid of” Super PACs and Citizens’ United. He called for “a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy” bringing more young people and working people into the political process. He affirmed that “the government of the United States of America belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

The Score

Candidates who said anything about a focus issue were awarded one point (+1), regardless of their position. If the candidate generally supported TNC’s view of the issue, they were awarded an additional point (+1). If a candidate said nothing about an issue, they were given a negative point (-1). If the moderators failed to ask a question about an issue, the candidates were not excused from commenting. TNC notes that candidates have never allowed questions to get in the way of saying whatever they want to say.

The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Bush Carson Christie Clinton Cruz
Immigration
Reform
-1 -1 -1 +1 -1
Health Care -1 -1 -1 +2 +1
Iran
Negotiations
+1 -1 +1 +2 -1
Climate Change -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
Minimum Wage -1 -1 -1 +2 -1
Campaign
Finance
-1 -1 -1 +2 -1
Total Score -4 -6 -4 8 -4

Kasich O'Malley Rubio Sanders Trump
Immigration
Reform
-1 +1 -1 -1 +1
Health Care -1 -1 +1 +2 +1
Iran
Negotiations
-1 -1 +1 +2 -1
Climate Change -1 +2 -1 +2 -1
Minimum Wage -1 +2 -1 +2 -1
Campaign
Finance
-1 -1 -1 +2 -1
Total Score -6 2 -2 9 -2

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