On Thursday, January 28th 2016, the remaining Republican candidates for their party’s nomination — absent Donald Trump, who refused to debate because of Fox’s Megyn Kelly as moderator — met at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, their last meeting as a field before the Iowa Caucuses. In case you missed the event, we’ve gathered some of the highlights from both debates, undercard and primetime, here:
Cruz on the Elephant Out of the Room
When Donald Trump announced that he would not be attending the FOX-Google Debate — both because of Megyn Kelly’s role as a moderator, and for the cutting press releases on Trump written by FOX’s Roger Ailes — pundits knew that the candidates would take shots at Trump early, before moving on to a more substantive debate. Ted Cruz pre-empted the question altogether, performing a ritualistic insult act that lampooned Trump and signaled the start of a more traditional debate.
Kasich on the Mentally Ill and Drug Users
John Kasich has been careful in positioning his campaign at once as one of a responsible politician and as a non-“establishment” candidate, and his views on the government’s role in mental healthcare and treatment for drug addicts highlights this role: the federal government — especially the senators representing it in the GOP field — is associated with a no tolerance War on Drugs that has hurt addicts for decades, most recently those affected by a heroin epidemic sweeping working class White America. By pointing out his support of reform, Kasich painted a picture of a compassionate, problem-solving governor.
Bush on Family Ties
Jeb Bush has spent most of this primary season navigating the complicated associations of his last name. The Bushes themselves, as individual politicians and public figures, actually fare pretty well in public opinion polling. But the idea of dynastic politics does not. Jeb’s challenge has always been to highlight the service his family has given to the United States government. It’s an uphill battle in a primary season marked by distrust of establishment institutions, but he continues to chip away at the idea.
Cruz Stays Honest on Ethanol
Say what you will about Ted Cruz’s politics, the man has some principle. Or at least, some guts: that’s what it takes to tell Iowans, on the doorstep of their first-in-the-nation caucus vote, that you intend to phase out ethanol subsidies over a number of years. Cruz couched the problematic stance within his larger belief system — that the government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers through subsidies — but the idea is still a bitter pill for Iowa’s corn farmers, a major political force in the Republican caucuses.
Bush and Rubio Spar on Immigration
The road to immigration reform, or lack thereof, in the U.S. Senate has been a long and bumpy one, full of political opportunism and tricky parliamentary procedure. That process has been slowly exposed during this presidential cycle, as veterans of the debate — Bush, Rubio and Cruz, especially — have attempted to poke holes in each others’ supposed histories of supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. It’s a fascinating chess match to have broadcast world wide, but one wouldn’t expect any less of a complicated narrative around one of America’s thorniest issues.
Christie wants a Washington English Dictionary
It’s no surprise that the reaction of “outsider” (non-Washington-based) politicians to the federal immigration scuffle would take advantage of the distance afforded to them by state government. Chris Christie is a master of distancing himself from Washington’s illegible squabbles, and this debate was no exception.
Rubio on the future of ISIS
ISIS is a pretty easy target. So easy, in fact, that many Republican candidates seem to have run out of new material on the terrorist group and aspiring-Caliphate. Once you wonder, as Ted Cruz did, if sand can glow as a result of carpet bombing, there’s not really much room left. Rubio, in addressing the extra-judicial threat of ISIS’ within United States borders, extended the argument once more challenging his opponents: what would they do to confront the threat of extremism at home?
Fiorina attacks Hillary
Carly Fiorina came out strongly against Hillary Clinton — as a politician, spouse, and human being — at the start of the last undercard debate, and she re-doubled the effort this time. It might be a long shot attempt to gain enough momentum to hop up to the big leagues, or it might simply be an attempt to weaken the probable Democratic nominee while she still has any national spotlight at all. Either way, Fiorina’s attacks, despite her own categorizations of them, appear to be getting more intensely personal.
Huckabee on the Donor Class
The undercurrent of distrust at the beginning of this election cycle has evolved into a raging tsunami of establishment anger, and Mike Huckabee tried to ride the wave with a technique that has worked well for the two leading “insurgent” campaigns in this race: blaming the “donor class.” Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have advertised their freedom from the process of raising huge sums of money. Huckabee hasn’t, to the same extent, accepting money from all sorts of super PACs and Republican bundlers. Still, in his position, anything is worth a shot.