3 Policy Contrasts to Consider From the Second GOP Debate

CNN held a marathon three hour debate with eleven candidates, three moderators, and a variety of questions from the social, economic, and Foreign Policy sphere. The debate cenered on Foreign Policy, so it was no surprise that the candidates spent the majority of their time debating the Iran Deal, how to handle Syria, which president is to blame for Iraq’s predicament, and just how weak the current administration is on national defense.

The rhetoric of  a Republican presidential candidate can be difficult to parse. What exactly are the “political restrictions” on our forces operating in Iraq because of the “incompetence” of the Obama administration, Governor Scott Walker? Judging from the amount of times we heard Donald Trump state that “this world is a mess”, or moderator Jake Tapper egg on some drama through his method of questioning, or the lack of breaths taken by Marco Rubio when rattling off all the terrible, horrible, no good very bad things going on in the world by our endless enemies, one would think there would be no time to put forward genuine policy–what candidates would do once they enter office in response to all the current troubles.

Fortunate for those who spent their Wednesday night watching the CNN debate, some genuine policy differences did occasionally shine through. Here are three, on the subjects of taxation, military intervention, and immigration.

*Note that I am not fact-checking the candidates statements, merely relaying their stated positions and assertions.*

  1. Taxation

The GOP field debated the tax code at its most structural level tonight. The current tax code is a progressive tax code, which didn’t find favor with all the candidates, but did with the front-runner. Donald Trump has shown strong support in recent weeks for increasing taxes on the super wealthy hedge fund managers and Wall Street executives that have done so well during the recession. Trump used vague terminology to describe the progressive tax code (where rising income brackets correlate with an increase in the percentage taken in as tax revenue), but he favors a “graduated tax system.” John Kasich is a supporter of this tax system as well, but he doesn’t think that hedge fund managers should be singled out. He affirmed that as Governor of Ohio he initiated the “largest amount of tax cuts of any sitting governor.”

Runner-up in the polls, Ben Carson, Libertarian-leaning Rand Paul, and Evangelical Mike Huckabee, were all critical of the progressive tax code. They support a flat tax to varying degrees. Rand Paul to no surprise wants to rid what many libertarians consider “crony capitalism”, the special loopholes that the wealthy take advantage of to pay a lower tax rate. He also favors abolishing payroll taxes. Mike Huckabee stole some of Paul’s thunder when he proposed abolishing all taxes on production and income. He favors a fair tax on consumption. Huckabee justifies his position on taxation by arguing that to tax work and productivity, “penalizes” it. This is in stark contrast to liberals, who put forward that taxation is not a penalty, but a collective contract made by the public with government to provide society goods and services.

There was no word from the candidates (pro graduated or flat taxers) about their tax plans impact on the national debt or government spending.

  1. Military Intervention

The Republican Party of the George W. Bush administration was notable for its unilateral intervention in defense of “universal values” and the trumpeting of a “global war on terror” that put the American military on the warpath from Yemen to Nigeria. Jeb Bush gave a strong defense of his brother’s war, claiming he kept the country safe. Jeb Bush wants to return the defense budget to previous levels by no longer including it as part of the sequester. Even so, Bush was out-hawked by many on his right tonight. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Conservative darling Carly Fiorina.

The only women candidate on the stage, Fiorina looked confident in her addresses, stating America should lead with “strength and resolve” (like Ronald Reagan!). She wants to dramatically increase US military strength, manpower, and upgrade our nuclear capability. Fiorina supports arming the Kurds in Syria. While Fiorina was long on details (like how many ships, planes, soldiers, etc  the US should build), Marco Rubio was low on policy substance but could rattle off nearly every problem he had with current International Affairs. He gives the impression that he does not support America retreating from the world. Rubio wants a more confrontational approach with Russia, Iran, the Syrian government, and China.

Walker seemed to stand somewhere between Rubio and Fiorina. He wants to work with both the Kurds and Sunnis of Iraq and Syria. In his 60 seconds it seemed he moderated when America should use military force, claiming he wouldn’t put soldiers in harm’s way unless the national security of the country was at stake. It also seems like Walker has a broad view of what includes our national security (and it doesn’t just include the homeland). If Walker was to use force, it would be overwhelming force. No “pinpricks” from this guy. Walker doesn’t want a scalpel, he wants a chainsaw.

Dr. Carson on the other hand looked for “intellect” as a guiding force for Foreign Policy, rather than exclusively using military means to solve America’s problems. Carson would use “aggression where aggression is needed.” He warned W. Bush (apparently their families are friends) not to enter Iraq in 2003. He was critical of even entering Afghanistan after 9/11. His plan to deal with the Middle East after the terrorist attacks would have been to threaten American energy independence. Carson believes he could have gotten the Gulf Arab states to do the work for us, arresting and extraditing terrorists to us for trial. They would do this out of fear we would stop buying their resources. So it seems Carson prefers a more traditional, policing approach to terrorism, rather than boots on the ground.

Of course then there is Dr. Rand Paul, who believes we should be engaged in the world (dispelling suspicions he is an isolationist) and talking to our friends and competitors like Russia, China, and Iran alike. Paul was against the Iraq war. He is also the only one to have come out against a war on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Had we bombed the Syrian army, ISIS would be in Damascus today, he claimed. This train of thought doesn’t work for someone like Marco Rubio, who thinks we absolutely should be carrying out regime change in Syria and fighting ISIS at the same time. Rand Paul was also the only one (except Ben Carson’s energy statement) to utter his frustration with the Saudi government for it’s foreign policy in the Middle East (especially for not taking in Syrian migrants).

  1. Immigration

Donald Trump will not walk away from deporting all undocumented immigrants in America. But he did show acceptance for law-abiding “illegals” to come back through the law. The wall is still the centerpiece of his policy initiative. Marco Rubio wants an immigration system based on merit, rather than family ties. Ted Cruz does not support any amnesty.  Ben Carson did offer an innovative solution that hasn’t been mentioned by the other candidates. the Dr. supports undocumented immigrants obtaining guest-worker permits, and staying in the U.S. (particularly in the agriculture sector) to work. This would likely mean they wouldn’t be offered services, but they also wouldn’t have to worry about being deported by Trump’s minutemen.

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