People tuning into the much-anticipated GOP presidential debate last week were not disappointed. The lively FOX News debate featured 17 candidates and had to be split into two events, one for the top-rated candidates in the evening, and another for second-tier candidates earlier in the day.
The candidates discussed a wide variety of issues including abortion, reforming the tax code, illegal immigration, the Iran nuclear deal and the war against ISIS.
Billionaire Donald Trump, who topped the polls going into the debate, turned out to be a disappointment. He gave vague answers and never offered any concrete policy ideas on how he would solve problems. When pressed for evidence about the Mexican government deliberately sending undesirables to America, Trump offered up hearsay from border guards.
He kicked off the debate by refusing to pledge he wouldn’t rule out an independent bid, if he failed to win the Republican nomination. Sen. Rand Paul accused him of “hedging his bets.”
He was also accused of using insulting language towards women by Megyn Kelly, one of the debate moderators. Trump also made disparaging comments about legislators calling them “stupid politicians.”
“This country is in trouble, we don’t win anymore,” Trump said.
Trump faced tough questioning from moderator Chris Wallace, who asked why his companies had filed for bankruptcy four times, if he was such as great businessman. Trump countered by bragging about his successes and net worth, claiming he had simply taken advantage of the nation’s laws to protect his assets like hundreds of other businessmen.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also faced stinging criticism. He was bashed for his brother’s record. Trump said the failures of the George W. Bush administration paved the way for Barack Obama.
“The last months of the George W. Bush administration were a catastrophe,” Trump said.
Bush admitted his family legacy could work against him, but was confident about his record as a conservative governor of Florida, where he said 1.3 million jobs were created when he was governor.
“I am going to have to earn this (the Republican nomination,)” Bush said. “I’m proud of my record in Florida.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a heated exchange with Paul over electronic surveillance. Paul also criticized the governor for embracing President Barack Obama, when he toured the state after Hurricane Sandy.
“I know you gave him a big hug. If you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead,” Paul said.
Christie accused Paul of grandstanding and using his Senate filibuster as a fundraising tool.
Sen. Marco Rubio was one of the few Republican candidates to talk about the shrinking middle class. Rubio said he was better equipped to understand the issues affecting working families than Hillary Clinton, because he had lived paycheck to paycheck and had a large student debt.
Earlier in the day, the seven lower-ranked Republican candidates debated issues ranging from ISIS, abortion, gay marriage and reducing government dependency.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry bragged about his experience in creating 1.5 million jobs and dealing with border issues for more than a decade.
“Americans want someone who has a track record of getting things back on track,” Perry said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham talked about his experience dealing with foreign affairs and warned of the dangers of the fight against ISIS. He said America needed to put boots on the ground in the Middle East.
“If we don’t stop them over there, they are coming here,” Graham said.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore also talked about his extensive experience in military intelligence, as attorney general and governor. However, Gilmore has been out of public office for 13 years.
The standout candidate in the debate was former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina who came across as knowledgeable and articulate. Fiorina has never served in public office and lost a senate race to Barbara Boxer. Fiorina said Americans want a commander-in-chief who understands the world economy and knows how to manage a bureaucracy.
The candidates also touched on Donald Trump. Perry derided him as “a celebrity,” comparing him to high-profile candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who were briefly talked about as presidential candidates but quickly fizzled. Fiorina said Trump’s popularity shows people are looking for a change from professional politicians.
“The political class has failed you,” she said.
However faith leaders with the Black Lives Matter movement said they were disappointed the debate only briefly touched on police violence.
“This Thursday night’s presidential debate was a major disappointment for its failure to properly and respectfully acknowledge the aggressive and violent police practices resulting in the deaths of hundreds of young men and women killed by law enforcement over the past year,” said a press release by the PICO National Network, a network of faith-based community organizations. “This very week one year ago, communities of color grappled with and mourned the deaths of John Crawford III, killed in Ohio last Aug. 6, and Michael Brown, killed on Aug. 9, in the neighboring state of Missouri. As our nation looks back on the last year, the intelligent thing for presidential candidates to do would have been to offer a reflective response to the pain Americans are feeling.”