The third GOP debate was bad, bad, bad

Last night’s Republican debate was bad. Its format was bad, the moderators were bad and its participants were very, very bad.

The first question asked the candidates to name their favorite weakness. This is a bad question and every candidate gave a (deservingly) bad answer. From there, it only went from bad to worse.

Ben Carson spent the better part of the night proclaiming that facts are bad, which is usually bad, but he followed it up by saying that calling him out on his lies was just part of the liberal media conspiracy, which the audience felt was worse. One moderator called him out for having a tax plan that blew a gaping hole in the deficit, saying that he would have to cut government spending by 40% in order to make it revenue-neutral. Carson said that her claim was false and bad, and that she should feel bad. The moderator thanked him for this time.

But that exchange paled in comparison to when another moderator questioned Carson’s judgment for his ten-year affiliation with Mannatech, Inc., a nutritional supplement company that claimed to be able to cure autism, cancer and other diseases that we haven’t figured out how to cure yet, which is bad. Carson responded to the charge by saying that he was simply never involved with the company, which is a straight up lie:

Here’s a video of Carson appearing in a Mannatech video, giving it his open-armed endorsement:

Donald Trump got exposed for being a giant blowhard who doesn’t know what’s on his own campaign website. Sure, he smacked down an early challenge from John Kasich by exaggerating his position at Lehman Brothers and making fun of his standing in the polls, but Trump’s schtick only got him so far. When one of the moderators pointed out that he had called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator” over his support of the H1-B visa program, Donald Trump flatly denied it, saying he didn’t know where the moderator had heard such a bad and stupid thing. The moderator let it go — again, the moderators of this debate were really, really bad — but came back to it later when they found that the phrase actually appears on (shocker) Trump also went on record saying he would change the policy at his hotels and resorts prohibiting concealed weapons, which might be bad if he doesn’t follow through, but who knows.

Marco Rubio, along with Ted Cruz, will likely be declared the winners of last night’s debate by the media despite having both spent much of the night attacking them — without doing much by way of answering questions. Rubio did come prepared to respond to charges about his missed votes in the Senate, which aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out to be, but he answered most other challenges thrown his way by defaulting to them (again) being a part of the grand liberal media conspiracy. He probably turned in the least-bad performance of the night, but that’s a low and bad bar to clear when trying to declare a debate winner.

Ted Cruz picked up on Carson’s attack on the moderators to tie what few substantive questions came his way back to how bad the moderators were for failing to ask substantive questions, all while not saying anything of substance. Watch how Cruz answered a question about Congress’s budget deal, which was struck to avoid having the United States default on its debt, by citing it as a prime example of media bias:

That exchange, by the way, produced one of the night’s biggest applause lines. God Ted Cruz is bad.

Jeb Bush, who needed to have a not-bad night, had a bad night. He tried to attack Marco Rubio over his missed Senate votes, which was a bad idea because the issue isn’t as big of a deal as it’s been made out to be, and Rubio handed him his hat. Apart from that, his biggest moment of the night was when he said that if there was a Democrat out there willing to cut spending by $10 for every $1 in tax increases, “I’d give ’em a warm kiss,” which was gross and bad. His campaign is all but over.

Third GOP debate, screenshot via YouTube

Third GOP debate, screenshot via YouTube

Carly Fiorina implied that Social Security and the minimum wage are unconstitutional and probably unnecessary. This is a bad legal opinion, a bad policy suggestion and a bad moral position rolled into one.

Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and John Kasich were all but irrelevant for various reasons, which is bad for them. Huckabee spent most of his time complimenting the other candidates (mainly Trump — he even remarked that he was wearing a Trump tie) and attacking the Clintons without bringing anything new to the table. Paul didn’t find his groove until he got a question about the Fed, which only reminded everyone why his dad never became president. Kasich seems to have gone into the debate hoping to get a favorable headline on ThinkProgress or Salon by attacking Trump, but was too disorganized and ineffective to even pull that much off.

I forgot Chris Christie was in the debate until I wrote about the first nine candidates and realized I had missed one. Don’t worry, though, he was still really bad, attacking the Obama administration for prosecuting David Petraeus, the guy who leaked classified information to his mistress.

That just leaves CNBC, which definitely had the most-bad night of anyone. Not only did they not offer a free live stream of the debate, as CNN had, but their coverage was so bad that they reminded all who were watching why they weren’t worth the money. The moderators were not prepared to follow up on the questions they wanted to ask; their analysts were more concerned about promoting CNBC’s regular programming and injecting Manhattan conservative fiscal policy into the conversation and their commentators know very, very little about politics. As pathetic and bad as it was for the GOP candidates to spend the bulk of the night attacking the moderators and the channel — which was especially pathetic and bad given that CNBC is to the right of Fox — it’s not like they didn’t have any heat coming.

What a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad catastrophe of a night.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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14 Responses to “The third GOP debate was bad, bad, bad”

  1. Badgerite says:

    I don’t know if they ever had a governing vision. Their prescription for everything is tax cuts.
    Tax cuts don’t fix roads, build schools or do much of anything really except make a few people exceeding rich. Tax cuts don’t secure a future. Tax cuts are really just a dodge to cover up the fact that the “party of ideas” has none. The GOP is morally and intellectually bankrupt.

  2. FLL says:

    Ben Carson is the current hero of the anti-gay evangelicals. He disgraced himself during the debate by telling a whopping lie when he denied his years-long involvement with that sketchy Texas-based company, Mannatech, that got sued by the Texas attorney general for 7 million dollars for false advertising. (I think the company finally settled for paying 4 million in compensation to Texas customers.) The Republican Iowa Caucus is dominated by fundamentalist Christians, and Carson may still eke out a victory there, but I believe his campaign will start to slide downhill everywhere else. That leaves the Republican convention with… [dramatic fanfare please]… The Donald. What fun.

  3. DoverBill says:

    As a political junkie, I can’t get enough conservative train wrecks.

    When is their next debate?

  4. JaneE says:

    None of the GOP candidates has a fiscally sound plan for the country. They say what they think their base and/or their donors want to hear, and then pretend that what they said will work, regardless of the math, or pretend that they didn’t say what they did say. And even the “financial” network can’t pin them down or call them out. I can’t believe that anyone thinks any of these candidates would make a competent president.

  5. nicho says:

    Except in the case of Meg Whitman whose salary is $1. All the other millions are stock options. The argument is that she only cashes in if the stock price goes up. This is probably why she’s laying off 85,000 people. That should make the stock price go up. Then, she pays 15 percent tax on her winnings.

  6. BeccaM says:

    Carson’s been saying 10% apparently.

    Average CEO compensation as of last year was $22.6m, but the way they usually structure it, only about 1/3 of that amount is straight-up cash. (The rest? Stock options, deferred income, expense and travel accounts, magically-inflating off-shore IRAs…basically every possible means of moving income out of the taxable category.) Without much effort, a CEO with a halfway competent accountant could drive their effective tax rate down to a little over 3%.


    Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) Director Bob McIntyre made a generous estimate of how much Carson’s 10 percent flat tax could reasonably raise by simply multiplying total federal adjusted gross income estimated for 2016 ($11.25 trillion) by 0.10. This would yield tax revenues of only $1.1 trillion. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that the federal government will raise an estimated $3.5 trillion and spend $4 trillion in 2016. In other words, Carson’s plan likely would raise only 32 percent of the revenue of the current tax system and pay for only 28 percent of estimated government spending.

    (source: )

  7. emjayay says:

    Well, he said his tithing plan (generally considered to mean 10%) was really maybe 15% so who knows, maybe it’s really 20. Any way you look at it it’s a big increase for the bottom half and a huge cut for the top half. When confronted he either waffles like this, changes the subject, or lies.

  8. 2karmanot says:

    No real policy discussions or any real vision of governing. That bunch of reprobates came across as a bunch of mean girls texting each other insults and fighting over a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps. Entertaining though it was, the subtext is a dire one for the future of the Republic. Not one of these ‘D’ list Morlocks is even remotely capable of governing a diverse and democratic nation.

  9. BeccaM says:

    BTW, if there really was the ‘biggest loser’ up there, it was probably Bush. Jebbie desperately needed a win and to become relevant, and he couldn’t even land his attacks on Rubio successfully.

    I predict Bush will be out of the race before the end of November, possibly much sooner.

    It is interesting to see both Trump and Carson finally beginning to be called out for their lies and their reality-contradicting proposals. I mean, by one tax group’s estimate, Carson’s tax plan would result in revenues which wouldn’t even cover the defense budget alone.

  10. nicho says:

    And this is the “democracy” they say they’re trying to export to other countries. No wonder other countries aren’t having any of it. What a pathetic mess.

  11. BeccaM says:

    CNBC did do one thing I would never have thought possible: They made me feel just a little bit sorry for the GOP candidates up there on the stage.

    Fortunately, their mass combined awful and flat-out lies quickly overcame the temporary sympathy.

  12. gratuitous says:

    Sen. Rubio’s spotty attendance record at his job isn’t that big a deal, except that he’s on record as wanting to dismantle the civil service protections for public employees. I believe the exact quote was “if you work at the VA and you aren’t doing your job, they get to fire you.” Apparently the rules Sen. Rubio would like to promulgate for the VA aren’t supposed to apply to the Senate.

  13. Andrew Reinert says:

    I am aware of just one worse debate. In the late 1930s, a Texas gubernatorial candidate, “Pappy” O’Daniel, included in his portion of the debate, a rendition of “Cigareets and Whisky (and Wild, Wild Women).” He won by a landslide.

  14. Quilla says:

    Did you miss the part where Christie said something about TRUTH?

    Don’t think any of them saw the gooey irony all over the floor. Might have smelled it, tasted it, but, by golly, they didn’t step in it.

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