Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Business takes a back seat in first GOP debate

August 7, 2015

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Thursday night’s Fox News Republican presidential debate was a largely mash-up of candidates positioning themselves on abortion and Planned Parenthood, loyalty to the GOP, ISIS and foreign policy, and immigration.

Prior to the debate, Gallup Editor-In-Chief Frank Newport posed 11 questions based on the polling organization’s determination of what’s on the minds of American voters. The top three were about fixing the economy, confidence in Congress, and race relations.

But apparently, neither Fox nor the GOP field considers those the highest priorities of early state Republican voters. Answers to those questions were in short supply, with 15 minutes out of two hours devoted specifically to jobs and the economy.

So, there was no Herman Cain-style 9-9-9 plan rolled out, but there were these:

  • Sen. Marcio Rubio (R-Fla.) called for a 25 percent cap on small business taxes.
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee resurrected the FAIR Tax (a national consumption tax), which has fans among Republican conservative base.
  • Dr. Ben Carson called for a flat-rate income tax.
  • Donald Trump, who received the lion’s share of attention from political reporters,  was forced to defend four business bankruptcies. “With that record, why should we trust you to run the nation’s business?” Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Trump.
    “Out of hundreds of deals, four times I’ve taken advantage of the laws of this country,” was the reply.
  • Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin defended the economic records in their states.
    “We have a lot to do in New Jersey, but I am darn proud of what we did to bring our state back,” said Christie.

Governors as presidential candidates are in an interesting position. They sell themselves on their executive experience and how they handled the economies of their states. But that also means they have records that can be used against them.

Walker ran into this as a candidate for reelection in Wisconsin after a promise to create 250,000 new jobs fell short. That didn’t stop him from winning, but he still might find that promise coming back to haunt him.

It also didn’t stop former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida from promising big in the jobs department. He said he could bring the nation’s economy to 4 percent annual growth (the US economy grew by 2.3 percent in the second quarter of this year) and promised 19 million new jobs.

“We need to lift our spirits and have lofty expectations,” he said.

Trump showed up with his typical braggadocio, seizing most of the air time, and refusing to rule out a third party or independent run for the presidency should he fail to win the GOP nomination.

But the real winner of the evening may have been former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was not included in the prime time debate, but took part in an earlier version.

She far exceeded expectations in the Fox “kids table” debate of candidates who didn’t qualify for the final lineup of the main event.

Fiorina’s performance led Fox News host Greta Van Sustern to suggest it’s time to take her seriously as a top-tier candidate and not just a ticket-balancing possibility.

“Carly Fiorina is not running for vice president. Carly Fiorini is running for president.”

For story ideas, see how the debates resonated in your community. Does your audience want more discussion of business topics? How does your local economy compare with the picture painted by the candidates?

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