GOP campaigns considering revolt against debates, since the questions are making them look bad

Ben Carson’s campaign has had it up to here with all of these biased debate questions — questions like “Explain how your tax plan’s math works, because independent analysis says it doesn’t” and “Did you have a relationship with these shady snake oil salesmen that you totally had a relationship with?”

So has Donald Trump’s campaign, for that matter. For his part, he’s tired of getting his fair share of nasty, biased questions — questions like “Did you say this thing that you say on your website?” and “No one who knows that they’re talking about thinks your immigration plan will work. Why are they wrong?”

So the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination, and their campaign managers, are reportedly going to rally the field together to revolt against these terrible, awful, no-good, very bad debates — debates that have been organized thus far by noted liberal outfits CNBC, CNN and Fox in consultation with the Republican National Committee. From the Washington Examiner:

In an interview shortly after the debate, Barry Bennett, manager of the Ben Carson campaign, called the session here in Colorado “unfair to everyone” and said the current debate structure should not remain in place. “I think the families need to get together here, because these debates as structured by the RNC are not helping the party,” Bennett said. “There’s not enough time to talk about your plans, there’s no presentation. It’s just a slugfest. All we do is change moderators. And the trendline is horrific. So I think there needs to be wholesale change here.”

Bennett said he will call Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski Thursday to propose a unified call for change. “Corey and I talk regularly, so I will talk to him,” Bennett said. “I will call Frank Sadler (Carly Fiorina’s campaign manager), I will call those guys and say listen, we can choose our own network and our own format. We don’t need to be led around like prize steers.”

In reality, the candidates spent plenty of time talking about their plans. They were just forced to start by answering for the fact that they make no sense, because they don’t. All of the Republican candidates claim to be able to slash taxes — mostly for the very rich — while not adding to the deficit. The conservative Tax Foundation has gone through each of these plans and concluded that their claims simply don’t hold up. From the Huffington Post, reporting on their findings:

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump’s plan would cost over $10 trillion.

Bobby Jindal’s plan would cost $9 trillion.

Rick Santorum’s would cost $1.1 trillion.

Jeb Bush’s plan? $1.6 trillion.

Marco Rubio? More than $1 trillion over the next decade.

One exception: The Tax Foundation says Rand Paul’s tax plan would save the government $737 billion. But other tax experts are far less sanguine. Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that Paul’s plan would cost $15 trillion. Much of the difference is due to less optimistic assumptions about economic growth. The Tax Foundation assumes that tax cuts benefitting Wall Street and the wealthy will generate very high levels of growth. Citizens for Tax Justice does not.

As for Ben Carson’s plan, the Washington Post concluded that the dramatic drop in revenues collected by the federal government as a result of his flat tax, combined with his balanced budget amendment, would require an immediate 72 percent cut in federal spending. At the debate last night, a CNBC moderator posed the slightly more generous but still radically unfeasible figure of a 40 percent cut. Either way, you can’t make those spending reductions just by doing “strategic cutting,” as Carson put it. You’ve got to start going after some big-ticket items like Social Security, Medicare and the military — moves Carson insists he doesn’t have to do.

In Carson’s view, calling him out on these figures is “biased” because they don’t amount to quiet, approving nodding to the claims he’s making. That isn’t how debates work. As Chris Walker wrote earlier today, it isn’t a “gotcha” question to ask about a candidate’s tax plan.

However, CNBC’s handling of the debate was so bad last night — after they allowed themselves to be bullied into a format more favorable to Trump and Carson in the first place — that an organized rebellion by the Republican candidates for more favorable debate formats could very well work.

Wonkette’s compiled all 36 questions from last night’s debate here. They weren’t unfair. They weren’t “gotcha.” Nearly all of them attempted to tie something about the candidates’ pasts or policy proposals to current economic issues — from regulation to taxation to the debt ceiling. Sure, there was a question about regulating daily fantasy sports when there wasn’t a question about regulating Wall Street, but it was a question about when and how government regulation is legitimate. And the answer to that question could maybe, just maybe, provide a hint as to how the person who answered it (Jeb Bush, who answered it terribly, saying that yes the leagues should be regulated but no it shouldn’t be the government to do it) might govern.

The Republicans can whine about the debates making them look bad all they want, but once one of them is nominated they’re going to have to square off with the Democratic nominee — almost certainly Hillary Clinton — whose policies are internally consistent and who doesn’t need to reject the premise of every question by blaming the refs. If this is the kind of contrast these candidates want to draw with their general election opponents, game on.

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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