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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  • Moderator3

    Who’s making nasty comments?

  • OKCupcake

    That’s all libs are good for ridicule–no ideas, no problem solving just nasty comments.

  • OKCupcake

    The snarky questions are the problem–not the answers.

  • Robin518

    But the RNC debates give us such great ridicule fodder that just ads won’t do. Their debates keep the lyin’, librul blogs & posts rolling to new bars in mockery of their answers.
    Would you deprive me & so many more of smh’s, OMG’s & some of the most inventive expletives on sites like this, G+, Twitter, etc.?

  • rwlorenz

    Every person living in reality understands that it is the answers, not the questions, that are making the candidates look bad. Therefore, do away with the so-called debates; let the candidates spend their money if they want national exposure.

  • Badgerite

    That’s what the country needs. An executive that cannot handle any kind of real questions.
    Oh wait. We did have that once. His name was Richard M. Nixon and it did not end well.
    Checks and balances be damned.

  • mark_in_toronto

    Let’s see . . . after the Fox debate, they chastised Fox – a right-wing “news” outlet.
    After the CNBC debate, they chastised CNBC – a financial news outlet.
    What would be their idea of “fair” host for a debate? A high school in Texas?
    Serious problems and issues should be taken . . . well . . . seriously.
    We have yet to see that from these clowns.

  • Indigo

    The GOP brought that fiasco on itself by allowing the clown car to get rolling like this in the first place. That they apparently didn’t see the consequences is a clear indicator that they are not prepared to govern.

  • nicho

    If the facts are on your side, stress the facts. If logic is on your side, stress the logic. If neither facts nor logic are on your side, blame the media. (Paraphrase, but true nonetheless.)

  • JaneE

    Even wunderkind Paul Ryan’s budget relied on magic asterisks, and at least he admitted that it would raise the deficit initially. Even budgets that balance when passed can blow up before the year is out. The question is, how do we get enough voters to realize what a disaster these clowns want to cause, and motivate them to vote in the election?

  • Sally

    Someone should ask them how they will pay for the wars you know they are all itching to start. I mean, since we aren’t allowed to fund education, maintain roads and bridges, or give seniors back the money they put into SS and Medicare, how the F*** will they pay for their wars?

  • Has anyone seen the ratings? Pretty sure they’re plummeting, especially against Game Two of the World Series. If Trump owned the debates, he would be thinking about canceling the show.

  • In all likelihood, the GOPers’ various tax plans would be even worse than those estimates, because they keep trying to insist that massive tax cuts always and inevitably cause economic growth, when history has shown since the 1980s that the opposite is what actually happens. Especially when deficit-exploding cuts are paired with extreme austerity measures, which is pretty much every GOP tax plan.

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