4 questions that GOP candidates don’t deserve a cookie for if they answer correctly

As the Republican primary season heats up, the potential candidates are getting bombarded with questions. Some of them are good; others are bad; still more are completely empty.

Many in all three categories aim to pluck at the tension between the Republican primary and general electorates, forcing candidates to send ideological signals to voters that they wouldn’t volunteer on their own.

These types of questions — the ones that require Republican candidates to choose between South Carolina and Ohio — are the ones many on the Right cry foul over. They’re “gotcha” questions, designed to further a liberal agenda by making Republican candidates “look bad” when they answer with standard Republican talking points.

And when these candidates choose the general electorate, risking blowback from Fox and the Kochs and the Family Research Council, we’re supposed to stand up and applaud. How brave they must be, what with their saying what every sane person in the room knows they should have said!

This is ridiculous. You don’t deserve a cookie for correctly answering easy questions, however difficult your deranged base may make it seem. Here are a few of the questions that GOP candidates are having a really difficult time answering, and that they deserve no credit for when they finally do figure out answers:

1. Is President Obama a Christian / does he love America?

Variants of these questions got quite a bit of play back in February, right when the invisible/unannounced primary field was beginning to gel. That was also when Rudy Giuliani said what 62 percent of Republican voters believed at the time, that President Obama doesn’t love America, and reporters naturally lined up to ask likely GOP candidates if they agreed.

In response, Republican contender after Republican contender, fully cognizant of those polling numbers, fumbled through answers that led many of us to believe that if you had asked them “Is President Obama a reptilian snake demon from the Black Lagoon?” they would have paused before saying “I take him at his word that he isn’t.”

The one candidate who made any degree of sense during that news cycle was Marco Rubio, who (rightly) rolled his eyes at the absurdity of the question before saying “I’ll suffice it to say that I believe the President loves America; I think his ideas are bad.”

The only reason this answer earned Rubio any points is because of how badly the rest of the field handled the question, ranging from Rand Paul’s and Jeb Bush’s refusal to “question President Obama’s motives” to Scott Walker’s and Lindsey Graham’s “I’m not a scientists/psychologist, so I gosh darn it I can’t say for sure.” Rubio was the only candidate to use the word “love” to describe President Obama’s feelings toward the country that he, you know, is in charge of. But since he calmly stepped — not jumped — over the bar, he was able to plant his flag as some kind of voice of reason in the GOP circus.

2. Would you attend a gay wedding?

On Monday, Slate’s William Saletan devoted an entire article to walking through each candidate who has tried (and failed) to tackle this question through their missteps, coaching them on how to handle it in they event they are granted a mulligan.

As a refresher, those answers were:

The correct answer to this question is the same answer you give to any other wedding invite: “Yes. Unless it was really far away or I didn’t really know the person or there was something I’d rather do than, you know, go to a wedding.” It really isn’t that hard.

Of course, as Kasich learned the hard way, this answer is inevitably followed up with the question the reporter meant to ask in the first place: “How do reconcile that with your opposition to same-sex marriage?”

Kasich responded to this followup by shrugging his shoulders and chalking it up to a reasonable disagreement amongst friends. Saletan, appropriately, took him to task:

If you’re going to your friend’s wedding because you care about him and you don’t want to make a statement by not attending, that should tell you something. Don’t block millions of people from being legally married just so you can claim that you’re morally opposed to same-sex marriage when, in fact, you aren’t.

You don’t get a cookie for saying you’d go to a same-sex wedding if you, as president, would prevent millions of other same-sex weddings from taking place. “Would you attend a gay wedding?” is being used as a proxy for “Do you think gay people are real people?” as if saying yes to the former means saying yes to the latter. It doesn’t.

3. Do you believe in evolution?

As Keith Blanchard has noted in The Week, you don’t “believe” in evolution; you understand it. Saying you don’t believe in evolution is like saying you don’t believe in supermarket strawberries, which humans have bred over the years into bigger, fatter, juicier versions of their original species. The same is true of dogs and infection-resistant bacteria.

In other words, evolution is a thing. It’s occurring all the time, and in your daily lives. It isn’t a matter of faith.

And while it may seem like it doesn’t have any direct federal policy implications, whether or not our president understands basic scientific principles, or is at least willing to defer to people who do on questions relating to science, is critically important. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out last week:

But the moment the politicians start saying they are in denial of what the scientists are telling them, of what the consensus of scientific experiments demonstrates, that is the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.

Marco Rubio, these cookies aren't for you, via Creative Commons

Marco Rubio, these cookies aren’t for you, via Creative Commons

If our President suggests, with absolutely zero evidence, that the measles vaccine you’re about to give your child might give them autism, that isn’t just a difference of opinion; it’s dangerous. If our President sends a message to students across the country that science is just for nerdy “experts” who play around with “fuzzy math” but don’t actually know anything, we’re going to raise a scientifically illiterate generation. You can’t take any Presidential candidate who talks about science, technology or education seriously if they don’t take evolution and other scientific consensuses seriously.

No Republican candidate has come out and said that they believe in evolution, let alone understand it. And I don’t expect any of them to anytime soon. But if they do, they deserve an “It’s about time,” not a medal.

Speaking of which…

4. Do you believe in climate change?

Again, this isn’t a matter of belief. The science is settled on the fact that the climate is changing. All evidence points to humans contributing to this change. A lot. Furthermore, all evidence points to us needing to do something about this — and fast — to avoid having to redraw all of our maps with new coastlines in the next 100 years. You either understand this, or you don’t.

But we’re at a point in our civil discourse where a Republican who agrees with any of the words in the above paragraph, with the possible exception of “the” and “climate,” has literally earned themselves a freaking medal. Because courage!

That isn’t courage.

And the Republican who earned themselves that medal, former Congressman Bob Inglis, isn’t even running for office this year. The few Republican candidates who go as far as to admit that the climate is changing — none of them admit that humans are causing it or can do anything about it — have coalesced around the game-changing talking point of “So what?”

Check out Marco Rubio’s answer to the climate change question from his appearance on Face the Nation last week (and watch all the way through to hear him admit that being gay isn’t choice, but that he’s still against same-sex marriage):

Per Rubio, the climate is changing, but “scientists can’t tell us” how much curbing our carbon emissions will do to reverse the damage we’ve already done. So even if those nerds are right that it’s our fault, it’s probably too late. We might as well make sure that, when the time comes, we can put a ton of people to work building beachfront property in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

And Rubio’s supposed to be the bold, new, tough-talking intellectual Republican in this race. Please.

Seeing as the effects of climate change are set to have far more disastrous economic effects than the measures proposed to mitigate those effects, this Republican concern over jobs is really just concern for donors who operate in fossil fuel-based industries.

And if any Republican candidate dares piss off the Kochs and adopts, say, a Republican-backed market-based approach to tackling climate change, like cap-and-trade, they don’t deserve a medal for doing so. They deserve a nod and a welcome into the community of sane Americans who accept the scientific consensus on a critically important issue facing the world in the 21st Century.

As Stephen Colbert said, reality currently has a well-known liberal bias. But that doesn’t make it courageous for a Republican to hop on board. It makes them rational. In the event that any of the Republican candidates see the light in the coming months, or try to Etch-a-Sketch their way to sanity after primary season is over, let’s not forget that just because they’ve lowered their standards doesn’t mean we can’t hold them to normal ones.

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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34 Responses to “4 questions that GOP candidates don’t deserve a cookie for if they answer correctly”

  1. Sparafucile says:

    You’re presumptuous enough to have probably already drawn a conclusion. Are you asking because you want to know? (There is a legitimate purpose behind it.) Or so you can reject the reason? (Which the accusatory form of your question seems to foretell.)

  2. Moderator3 says:

    There is a reason that the mods are looking at you. What are you trying to hide by making your comment history private?

  3. Sparafucile says:

    Thanks, kid. Kokoretsi (Demosthenes) and I are well acquainted with each other. Your reading is inapt.

    But thanks, further, for thinking you know better, and deleting part of our interaction.

  4. Moderator4 says:

    Sparafucile, you need to tone down the ad hominem attacks.

  5. 2karmanot says:

    “a degree of smug presumptuousness” Looking in the mirror again trolinna?

  6. Demosthenes says:

    Not really.

  7. Sparafucile says:

    Struck a nerve, did I?

  8. Sparafucile says:

    “I’m not the one asking candidates these questions”

    Yes, I know. One needs to understand, that apart from “journalists”, there are few people who write about topics they hardly understand themselves.

    As for NASA, and their chief propagandist, Gavin Schmidt, they’ve been prone for over a decade to publish speculation on climate forcing — offering only mathematical “proof” (Schmidt’s not a physicist, or credentialed in any physical science, he’s a mathematician) — while blithely ignoring the empirical data that refuted it, when it came streaming in from their own satellites. Science is about reality matching or falsifying hypotheses. Thus far, all we’ve seen is the latter.

    As for “the jury’s still out on whether humans are contributing to climate change/can do something about it” ….

    Nobody (except a few morons, and I have encountered them, too) denies that humans can and do impact climate, locally, regionally, and globally. That conclusion, however, is a red herring, which in no way relates to any supposed validity of CAGW hypotheses. As for being able to “do something” — there are two critical points here: 1) We need to understand climate forcings and feedbacks well enough to know what a) we are doing, and b) what we can do. Thus far, we don’t. And 2) We need to recognize and reject the motivations of the loudest CAGW proponents/propagandists to enact an agenda they’s flogged for decades before the first notion of AGW — an agenda of deindustrialization, government control, and wealth redistribution. And that means getting government (activists and litigants) out of the way from blocking deployment of safe, modern, large-scale nuclear power — the only “solution” that’s capable of eliminating most CO2 emission while not destroying economies.

  9. Demosthenes says:

    Sometimes you are funny.

    And then there’s today.

  10. Sparafucile says:

    Is there a stroke center near you? Because, if you’re not your wife, your perceptiveness and SoH seem impaired today.

  11. Demosthenes says:

    1. I don’t own a personal laptop.
    2. I don’t own a personal desktop.
    3. I only comment on my personal iPhone.

  12. Jon Green says:

    I’m not the one asking candidates these questions, and I think the article does more than enough to highlight how bad their premises are. So as far as that goes, yeah, I totally agree with you; the questions are bad. That’s the whole point.

    As far as the science not being settled on climate change, you can take that argument up with NASA (whose evidence for human-caused climate change I link to), but I’d remind you that claiming that the jury’s still out on whether humans are contributing to climate change/can do something about it is exactly what Marco Rubio, et al are saying as a way to excuse doing nothing.

  13. Sparafucile says:

    Yes, but your questions carry a degree of smug presumptuousness and falsity in their very premise.

    Why would you ask anybody a question based on a false premise or a false choice? “When did you stop beating your wife?” Right?

    As for “All evidence points to humans contributing to this change” …. “evidence points” is what applies to matters of judgment, as in a courtroom, not to the longstanding requirements of the scientific method. Trying to bastardize science with concepts like consensus and ‘preponderance of evidence’ is what mendacious propagandists do, not what the scientifically-literate do.

  14. Jon Green says:

    I think I more or less addressed your point?

    “As Keith Blanchard has noted in The Week, you don’t “believe” in evolution; you understand it. Saying you don’t believe in evolution is like saying you don’t believe in supermarket strawberries, which humans have bred over the years into bigger, fatter, juicier versions of their original species. The same is true of dogs and infection-resistant bacteria.”


    “Again, this isn’t a matter of belief. The science is settled on the fact that the climate is changing. All evidence points to humans contributing to this change. A lot. Furthermore, all evidence points to us needing to do something about this — and fast — to avoid having to redraw all of our maps with new coastlines in the next 100 years. You either understand this, or you don’t.”

  15. Demosthenes says:


  16. Sparafucile says:

    You sure you don’t mean “role”?

  17. Sparafucile says:

    Two of Jon’s questions, themselves, are enlightening — as they (even in question form) display such rank scientific illiteracy that the smugness they presuppose is instantly negated

    To “believe in evolution” and to “believe in climate change” is the kind of language that somebody who takes such notions on faith would use — not one who depends on careful and thorough evaluation (let alone understanding) of the science.

    The short of it is this: evolutionary biology has met the scientific rigors for advancing from mere hypothesis to working theory, since it has been repeatably and independently shown to be testable, repeatable, and accurately predictable. No such qualification has been met with anthropogenic global warming hypotheses, despite the measured data that shows that the earth has been warming steadily for about 150 years (starting long before CO2 concentrations started advancing).

  18. Sparafucile says:

    The noteworthy thing is, for those who like to mock people that answer with “I take him at his word….”, they are universally oblivious to Obama’s not even achieving that same standard.

    Obama still insists that “ISIL (sic) is not Islamic”, despite all their overt statements to the contrary. Can’t Obama take them at their word? Or is Imam Barry now the judge of who is, and isn’t Islamic?

  19. Demosthenes says:

    I vent with postings like that. “I was on a roll”.

  20. Sparafucile says:

    It’s cute reading somebody who’s trying to insult others’ literacy, when that somebody doesn’t know the difference between “breath” (n) and “breathe” (v).

    You deserve this rebuke.

  21. Demosthenes says:

    I have a few more:

    5. Do you need your mouth to be open in order to breath?
    6. When is the last time you wore Depends?
    7. Do you need help reading?
    8. Do you wet your pants prior to “interviewing” with “donors”?

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  23. 2karmanot says:

    True that, she is far sighted.

  24. Indigo says:

    I thought she got her information watching Russia from her front porch.

  25. 2karmanot says:

    “that Alaskan woman” Speaking of diddly squat….the Wasilla Sasquatch obtains most of her intellectual nourishment by rooting through garbage dumps.

  26. 2karmanot says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. I miss Gaius, who went over to Digby, but Jon fills that gap with well researched, well written, and interesting, topical subjects.

  27. Naja pallida says:

    That’s why I always scoff at the response “Well, I’m not a scientist…” No shit, so why don’t you actually listen to those people who actually are scientists? That’s quite possibly the least you could do.

  28. Naja pallida says:

    This all reminds me of a psychopath talking to a parole board. They’re smart enough to know exactly what they need to say to get released, but just can’t help themselves, and start frothing at the mouth any time they’re given a platform. I’m thankful for what the Republican primary process has become, because it shows us the candidate’s true colors, and just how far they’re willing to stoop to pander to insanity. The scary part is, it still doesn’t sway half the country from voting for them.

  29. The_Fixer says:

    Oh, they do understand one thing: Who signs the checks and what they expect in return.

  30. Jon Green says:

    Thanks Jon!

  31. Jon Erickson says:

    Jon Green (interesting enough a name I used to use as a pre-teen in the 1950’s when we got caught swiping apples): You Sir are becoming one of my favorite writers. Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station still holds the lead as he is equally insightful but uses humor so effectively. Again and again your clarity and thoughtful writing and insight make my day. Keep up the good work and I will keep following you every day. Basically, you deserve a cookie!!!

  32. Indigo says:

    “Do you understand science?” Ha! That’s a hostile question if ever there was a hostile question. The current crop of men (and that Alaskan woman) representing the Republican Party don’t understand diddle-squat, let alone science.

  33. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I would think that Marco Rubio would prefer a bottle of water over cookies.

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