On March 3rd, four Republican presidential candidates -- Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and John Kasich -- took part in another presidential debate at Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan Moderated by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace, the debate explored topics such as global extremism, the economy, firearms, same-sex marriage, the Flint water crisis, and failing schools. The Washington Post published a transcript of the debate, available here.
At times, the debate was a circus, with Rubio and Trump bickering like children. At other times, the debate was horrifying, with Trump's cavalier talk of gutting government offices, authorizing waterboarding, and giving illegal orders to the military. The debate should remind us how high the stakes are in the 2016 election, and the consequences that will befall us if enlightened voters fail to elect a trustworthy candidate.
Chris Wallace referenced Mitt Romney's excoriation of Trump when asking Trump about the endorsement he received from white supremacist David Duke. Trump disavowed Duke's endorsement, but quickly became evasive.
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, Romney also talked about your position on race, and the controversy over your failure to denounce David Duke on Sunday. You have repeatedly disavowed him since then, but I'd like to go deeper than that. What are your views on the Klu Klux Klan, and white supremacists?Trump brought up Rubio's claim that he had small hands (which some people interpreted as a joke about the size of Trump's reproductive organ). "And he referred to my hands. If they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee," Trump assured the audience.
TRUMP: I totally disavow the Klu Klux Klan. I totally disavow David Duke. I've been doing it now for two weeks, this is your -- you're probably about the 18th person that's asked me the question. It was very clear, that question was also talked about in the form of groups. Groups, I want to know which groups are you talking about? You have to tell me which groups? Ultimately, he got to the Klu Klux Klan, which obviously I'm going to disavow. And, by the way, if you look on my Twitter account, almost immediately after the program they were disavowed again.
Wow. A serious presidential contender talking about his member during a debate. Classy.
Cruz and Rubio traded barbs with Trump for several minutes. The squabbling between Rubio and Trump became so childish that even Chris Wallace warned, "You have got to do better than this." Kasich prefered to rise above the fray and focus on his viability in the general election.
KASICH: It frankly is boring to me. I would like it clear though, since we're talking about polls, I beat Hillary Clinton by more than 11 points, and the reason it happens ... is because, as the Democrats tell me all the time, I can get the crossover votes. You see, because throughout this campaign I've talked about issues, I have never tried to go and get into these scrums that we're seeing here on the stage. And, people say everywhere I go, 'you seem to be the adult on the stage' ... What I want the people to know is, I know how to bring people together, Republicans and Democrats. I have successfully, both at the federal level and the state level brought economic growth, wage growth, and economic security to this country."Trump's performance went from boorish to disturbing when Wallace asked him how he would keep the economy afloat after instituting large tax cuts. Trump admitted that he would gut the Department of Education, Department of Environmental Protection, and Internal Revenue Service to save money. Wallace reminded him that gutting these departments would not save the U.S. sufficient money to offset the federal deficit.
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your proposed tax cut would add $10 trillion to the nation's debt over 10 years, even if the economy grows the way that you say it will. You insist that you could make up for a good deal of that, you say, by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse.Wallace also questioned Ted Cruz about his plans to abolish the IRS if elected president. Naively, Cruz argued that Americans could just submit their taxes on a postcard to the Treasury Department.
WALLACE: Like what? And please be specific.
TRUMP: Department of Education. We're cutting Common Core. We're getting rid of Common Core. We're bringing education locally. Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid are of it in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to take a tremendous amount out. We have various other things. If you look at the IRS, if you look at every single agency, we can cut it down, and I mean really cut it down and save. The waste, fraud, and abuse is massive.
WALLACE: Senator Cruz, one of centerpieces of your campaign, in fact, you mentioned it again tonight, is that you will abolish the IRS. Question though, who will collect the taxes that you are still calling for? Who will oversee to make sure that people pay the taxes that they rightfully owe? And who will check on the various tax deductions and tax credits that you still want?Bret Baier reminded Trump that over one-hundred Republican national security leaders signed an open letter declaring him unfit for office. Baier then asked Trump how he would react if U.S. military leaders refused to obey illegal orders related to torture and attacks on noncombatants. Trump was cavalier, insisting that the military would not refuse his orders. Chillingly, he expressed approval of waterboarding and even "stronger" (read: more brutal) measures.
CRUZ: So my simple flat tax I have rolled out in precise detail how it will operate where every American can fill out our taxes on a postcard. And if you want to actually see the postcard, see all the details, you can find them on our Web site. It's tedcruz-dot-org ... Now, at the end of that there will still be an office in the Treasury Department to receive the postcards but it will be dramatically simpler.
BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists' families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they've been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders. So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?Megyn Kelly played several video clips in which Trump contradicted himself on issues such as Syrian refugees, the war in Afghanistan, and whether George W. Bush lied to justify the Iraq War. Trump maintanced that he was maintaining "flexibility" on the issues.
TRUMP: They won't refuse. They're not going to refuse me. Believe me.
BAIER: But they're illegal.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They're chopping off heads. They're chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They're drowning people in steel cages. And he -- now we're talking about waterboarding.
This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last -- two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it's fine. And if we want to go stronger, I'd go stronger, too ... We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.
KELLY: But the point I'm going for is you change your tune on so many things, and that has some people saying, what is his core?Rubio scoffed at Trump's excuse. "There's a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do," Rubio said.
TRUMP: Megyn, I have a very strong core. I have a very strong core. But I've never seen a successful person who wasn't flexible, who didn't have a certain degree of flexibility. You have to have a certain degree of flexibility.
Crippled or nonexistent Departments of Education and Environmental Protection. Illegal military orders. Waterboarding and worse. Deception. After November, this is what awaits reasonable voters if we fail.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
NPR: Is The Republican Party On The Verge Of A Historic Crackup?
Detroit Free Press: Marco Rubio slams 'politicizing' of Flint's water crisis, defends Snyder