By CAP Action War Room
The Crazy Things The Republican Candidates Said, And The Important Things They Left Out
Yesterday morning the Cleveland Plain Dealer featured a front page story about the “vanishing middle class.” The writers couldn’t have predicted the middle class would vanish from the presidential debate as well: after nearly three and half hours of debating between the two events, there was virtually no mention of working families and middle class workers.
Over the two debates, the words “middle class” were said exactly two times by candidates. Instead, the cadre of Republican candidates disparaged immigrants, called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, war-mongered, and ignored working families altogether. Not that it mattered: the few places the GOP candidates offered policy proposals were for the same outdated policies that crippled those families in the first place.
We took a look issue by issue at how the candidates’ debate rhetoric doesn’t match reality:
As the economy recovers, more and more of the country’s economic gains are going to the wealthy few as the middle class get increasingly squeezed. Rather than offer new ideas for how to help middle-class families, the Republican candidates clung to the same old, failed trickle-down theories.
- Governor Jeb Bush touted his trickle down record in Florida, saying that he cut taxes every year. He continues to support tax plans that would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, such as eliminating capital gains. However, doing so would mainly benefit the wealthy few in Ohio—92 percent of Ohio’s millionaires would benefit, but the middle class will receive next to nothing.
- Governor Chris Christie went out of his way to praise his record of economic growth in New Jersey, touting that he “brought the budget into balance with no tax increases.” But, national employment grew almost two times faster that it did in New Jersey since he became governor.
- Governor John Kasich bragged about how he turned around the economy in Ohio “with jobs and balanced budgets and rising credit and tax cuts.” But Ohio’s middle class is not seeing the benefits. A new report from CAP Action shows the median income in the state is trailing the national average by $5,541 and median income has gone down since 2010—the year before Kasich took office. On the eve the debate, an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer cited CAP Action’s analysis, calling it “eye-opening” and lamenting that tax cuts became “articles of Statehouse faith, robbing Ohio of money it could have invested in education, including early-childhood education, and university-driven innovation.”
- Senator Marco Rubio pushed his tax plan. But, if enacted, the Rubio plan would be a massive, costly tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans, while slashing $2.4 trillion in revenue and ballooning the budget deficit.
- Governor Scott Walker showcased his leadership in Wisconsin, saying “the voters in Wisconsin elected me last year for the third time because they wanted someone who aimed high, not aimed low.” But in Walker’s Wisconsin, Wisconsin ranked 44th in the country for middle-class income growth.
GOP candidates continued to oppose sensible action on immigration that would help millions of undocumented immigrants while boosting the U.S. economy. They offered no new solutions, but clung to unworkable ideas such as a big wall at the border.
- Governor Scott Walker claimed that the president “messed up the immigration system in this country” when he expanded federal actions that focus immigration enforcement on felons, not families. In reality, implementing DAPA and expanding DACA is estimated to help over 5 million individuals to work legally and live here without fear of deportation, and will grow the U.S. economy cumulatively by $230 billion over 10 years.
- Donald Trump claimed that the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border, saying “the fact is, since then, many killings, murders, crime, drugs pouring across the border, are money going out and the drugs coming in. And I said we need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly.” But in reality, the border is more secure than ever before.
The Affordable Care Act is here to stay and it’s working. It’s helped bring affordable health insurance to millions of people and reduced the uninsured rate. Although the American people oppose efforts to repeal the ACA, the GOP candidates want to take us back to the broken healthcare system we had before.
- Donald Trump called the ACA a “complete disaster.” Actually, the ACA has succeeded in bringing quality, affordable health insurance to 16.4 million Americans. And since the ACA went into full effect, the uninsured rate has dropped almost 6 percentage points to 11.4 percent in the second quarter of 2015.
- Governor Jeb Bush continued his attacks on affordable healthcare tonight, saying he would “get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.” Reality check: Since the ACA went into effect, 11 million jobs have been created and unemployment is down by half.
During the debate, the ten men on stage quickly rushed to attack women’s health, striving to outdo one other on how extreme each can be. But access to quality, affordable health care is not just a right, it’s a matter of economic security for women.
- Governor Scott Walker boasted about how he “defunded Planned Parenthood more than four years ago.” But Planned Parenthood provides critical health services to millions of Americans. In 2013, Planned Parenthood served more than 2.7 million women, men, and young people; 1.5 million of those patients received services through Title X, the nation’s family planning program.
The GOP presidential contenders offered zero ideas to improve our education system. Instead of ideas to increase access to a quality education for all children, we heard more of the same conservative talking points to eliminate the Department of Education and lip service about the need for high quality education from the same governors that have cut education funding in their own states.
- Former Governor Mike Huckabee said, “there is no role at the federal level for the Department of Education.” At least five other Republican candidates also believe the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated. But the Department of Education is critical for the nation’s children, especially at risk and high need students. The Department targets resources to the most at risk and highest need students to receive a quality education and afford college including $28.83 billion in Pell grants per year and over $25 billion to low-income and special needs students.
- Governor Scott Walker emphasized the importance of education saying that we need to, “give people the education, the skills that the need to succeed…That’s what I’ll do as president, just like I did in Wisconsin.” But during his time as governor, he cut school funding per student more than any other governor in America.
The Topics The Candidates Left Out
What’s just as shocking as the claims the candidates did make are the very important topics that were left out of the debate.
- A few days after the Clean Power Plan launch, climate change was not mentioned once. Climate change has an impact on every corner of the world – from public health and the environment, to national security and the economy. Earlier this week, the Obama administration released the final version of the Clean Power Plan, the biggest climate action the United States have taken to curb carbon emissions.
- On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, voting rights was not mentioned once. 50 years ago yesterday, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law that prohibited racial discrimination in voting and paved the way for millions to cast ballots. The VRA is often held up as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted, yet many of the candidates have taken steps to further disenfranchise minority voters.
- Despite its centrality to so many important issues, economic inequality was not mentioned once. Four out of five Americans will experience at least a year of significant economic insecurity at some point during their working years, yet inequality was not brought up in the first Republican debate. Nor was an important aspect of that: the minimum wage. In fact, many of the Republican candidates do not support raising the minimum wage even though it would save taxpayers $52.7 billion over the next ten years.
- The entire conversation around #BlackLivesMatter lasted a total of 47 seconds. While the Fox News moderators did ask one question on how to address the problem of “overly aggressive police officers targeting young African Americans,” it was quickly deflected by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. What’s more, no Republican candidate has yet to reference the movement in their campaigns, except to dismiss and criticize it.
- The debate was a “gun-free zone.” In the wake of the shootings in Charleston, Chattanooga, and the Lafayette movie theater, no plan was offered for what to do about America’s level of gun violence, which far exceeds that of peer countries. In fact, though a common talking point of conservatives is that so-called “gun free zones” invite gun massacres, neither the Fox News moderators nor those on stage commented on the irony that the debate venue, the Quicken Loans Arena, is a gun-free zone.
BOTTOM LINE: We could have predicted there would be some fireworks at last night’s Republican presidential debate, and there certainly were. But while last night’s debate may have made for good entertainment, that is just about where its value stopped. For what the candidates did choose to talk about, the rhetoric was either extreme or simply not matched by the policy reality. And more surprisingly, the candidates chose not to talk at all about some of the critical challenges — strengthening the middle class, improving the democratic process, tackling inequality, addressing climate change — that face the next president.