Debate Debrief

Published January 29, 2016


AEIdeas invited several AEI scholars and fellows to provide brief reflections on last night’s GOP debate.  The commentary from all those making submissions can be found here. Below is EPPC Senior Fellow (and AEI Visiting Fellow) James C. Capretta’s contribution.

First, the debate tonight was far better without Donald Trump. There was plenty of substantive criticism and crossfire among the candidates, but, without Trump, the debate was far more substantive and far less juvenile.

Another major takeaway is that Rubio did very well again. He is ready with a quick and compelling answer to just about every question that comes his way, and was able to handle the tougher questions (particularly on immigration) without causing himself further trouble. He is particularly effective at defending conservative policy positions in ways that can be attractive to Americans of all ideological persuasions.

Bush also had a very good night. He was assertive, clear, animated, and active throughout the evening. He did not hurt himself tonight.

A couple of interesting exchanges on domestic issues:

Senator Cruz was asked what he would do to cover people with health insurance after he repealed Obamacare. He mentioned three things: allowing health insurance to be purchased across state lines; expansion of Health Savings Accounts; and severing the link between employment and insurance. There’s not enough detail here to know for sure what he has in mind, but it would not be possible to sever the link between health insurance and employment without changing the tax treatment of health insurance. It appears Cruz supports the conversion of the tax break for job-based health insurance into a universal tax credit, much as John McCain proposed in 2008. Although he is headed in the right direction, it is a major political vulnerability to propose upending job-based health insurance. Just ask McCain.

Christie was asked what federal program he would terminate. It would have been good if all of the candidates had been asked that question. His response that he would terminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood was good (it should be terminated), but he probably missed a chance to offer up something bigger and meatier. This question should be asked again at the next debate.

James C. Capretta is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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