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That’s it for our live blog, but how much of an effect will this debate have on the Iowa caucuses? We may never know. Most pollsters have conducted or are concluding their final polls in Iowa. If any candidate ends up greatly outperforming their final poll numbers, it could be because of the debate — or maybe the polls were never an accurate portrayal of what was going on in Iowa.
Take Ted Cruz. The polls have indicated that his support in Iowa has fallen over the past few weeks. Most of the chatter on Twitter and among the FiveThirtyEight staff is that Cruz’s performance in the debate tonight didn’t help him. If he ends up doing worse than his final poll numbers, will it be because of the debate or just a continuation of his downward trajectory? If Cruz, in fact, does better than his final poll numbers, does that mean he actually did better in the debate than many people are giving him credit for? Or is it that Cruz was able to overcome a poor performance thanks to a strong ground game?
The point is that in the fog of a campaign’s final few days, a lot of things can change, and it’s difficult to know why they do. We’ll see where we are when all the votes are counted.
At the start of the night, I noted that the economy has been very much in the news over the two weeks since the last GOP debate. The stock market has tumbled, and some commenters are now talking openly about the possibility of another recession.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the candidates hardly mentioned the economy tonight. Much of the debate focused on national security issues and ISIS, but even when the subject turned to domestic issues, there was little discussion of jobs, income or related issues.
As someone who’s skeptical of recession predictions, maybe I should applaud the candidates for choosing not to give into fear-mongering. But it was surprising to see so little time spent on an issue that voters still rank at or near the top of their list of concerns, especially at a time when economic anxieties are rising.
With Trump offstage, tonight belonged to Rubio and Cruz. They both got plenty of questions from the moderators, and other candidates’ attacks won them more speaking time, as they got the chance for rebuttals. Ultimately, Rubio got nearly three times as many chances to talk as poor Kasich.
Rand Paul ends the debate pledging to reduce the federal budget deficit. That’s an issue that used to be a core Republican talking point, but as my colleague Andrew Flowers recently noted, it has largely disappeared as an issue in this election cycle.
Ben Carson mentioned the geopolitical implications of America’s oil and gas boom. It’s certainly true that the U.S. “fracking” boom has played a major role in the plummeting price of oil, which has destabilized the Russian economy (though so far hasn’t loosened Putin’s grip on power). It’s also true that the U.S., which was once on track to become a major importer of natural gas, is now exporting liquefied natural gas from the lower 48 states for the first time.
We’ve been assigning grades to candidates at the end of each debate, and if you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that the range of grades has tended to narrow over time. In recent debates, most all candidates have finished somewhere in the B-plus to C-plus range, with few performances that struck us as really great or really awful.
That may be a reflection of the fact that as a campaign reporter, you hear way more from the candidates than regular voters do. In many respects, that makes it harder to hear the debate as the audience does and harder to guess what will move the polls. A line that seems tired or stilted because you’ve heard it in a stump speech or in a previous debate may seem perfectly fine to a voter at home hearing it for the first time.
Ethanol! The elixir of the Iowa gods! A pointed question here from the moderators — in the past couple of weeks, Cruz has been getting hammered by Big Corn and Gov. Terry Branstad, who said of Cruz:
“He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels. He actually introduced a bill in 2013 to immediately eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s heavily financed by Big Oil, so we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive but he could be very damaging to our state.”
Nabela Noor, submitting a video question through debate partner YouTube about anti-Muslim attitudes in the U.S., provoked an answer from Bush that turned into an attack on Trump — pivoting from his speech about Muslims to attacks on women, the disabled and Mexicans. This is one point in the debate where, to me, The Donald was missed. He almost certainly would have made a rebuttal to Bush’s statement — or perhaps the YouTube question would have been directed by moderators to Trump, had he participated.
Meanwhile in the real world, Japan’s central bank just cut interest rates to -0.1 percent. That’s right: negative. Japan will become by far the biggest country to experiment with negative interest rates in an effort to jump-start its foundering economy.
This may sound like a wonky issue (OK, it is a wonky issue), but it’s a huge decision that will reverberate across the Pacific Ocean. Japan was once a major driver of the global economy, but it has been unable to escape a generation-long spell of weak growth. A growing number of economists worry the U.S. could be headed in a similar direction.
Republicans like Rand Paul think it’s a good idea to go after Bill Clinton. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy, but I can say that Clinton is becoming less popular. A January 2016 CBS News/New York Times poll pegged his net favorability rating among registered voters at just +11 percentage points. That’s down from +27 percentage points in April of last year.
Ben Carson seems to have disappeared into the scenery during this debate, which seems like the perfect metaphor for his campaign. Carson’s 8.5 percent average in Iowa caucus polls is right around his low point over the past six months. It’s a far cry from the mid-20s that he was polling at in the fall of 2015.
Speaking ill of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a recurring theme at debates, and no wonder: Americans’ views of him and of his country are very unfavorable, far more so than they were a decade ago.
Rubio asserted that the U.S. is the most generous country in the world. But the U.S. is tied for the top spot with Myanmar, which has a fraction of the U.S. GDP. Ninety-one percent of citizens of Myanmar give charitably.
Donald Trump usually dominates his rivals in search traffic — and tonight is no exception, despite Trump not being on stage. Through the first hour and 20 minutes of the debate, Trump has been searched for slightly more than the seven men on stage combined, according to Google Trends:
If it’s any consolation, the other Republicans have closed the gap with Trump somewhat in the second half of the debate, which has included a lively series of exchanges on immigration.
There are 13 million uninsured Americans living in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. States that did expand, including Kasich’s state of Ohio, have much higher rates of health insurance across the board — not just for people who qualify for Medicaid.
Now that Trump has wrapped things up at Drake University, which program did better, his rally or the GOP debate? According to Google Trends, more people overall searched for the live stream of the debate.
Rubio praised America’s record on immigration, saying: “Every single year, close to a million people immigrate to the United States legally. There’s no nation on Earth that comes close to that number.” But we’re a big country! When you rank countries by what share of the population is foreign born, we’re No. 65.
Jeb Bush said he’s regularly beating Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polls. Perhaps these are internal polls: HuffPost Pollster has collected 14 polls posing the hypothetical — and, incidentally, currently irrelevant — Bush-Clinton matchup to Americans over the past two months since the last one showing Bush in the lead.
Which Republican is actually most “electable”? That’s a tricky question, but we can say which ones are the best liked — or to be more accurate, the least disliked — among general election voters right now. That distinction belongs to Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, who have breakeven favorability ratings — as good as anyone in the GOP field can manage for now. Donald Trump has the worst net favorability ratings, although Jeb Bush’s and Rick Santorum’s are nearly as bad.
Chris Wallace just mentioned that some Republican leaders worry that Ted Cruz would hurt Republicans down-ballot. History suggests that while there should be some concern if Cruz were to get blown out in the general election, I have found that it’s not always the case that the presidential result funnels down to the U.S. House.
Donald Trump has wrapped up — “Just to sum up, we have an amazing country” — but not before he asked his pregnant daughter to stand up. He shared with the crowd that Ivanka is going to give birth in two weeks — “we have the hospital all lined up” — and that he really wishes she would give birth in Iowa, because, well, that would be great press!
And that, ladies and gentleman, is that. A variety show of a rally — Fox News-baiting, a team of rivals moment, some serious talk about veterans issues, and an almost admirably shameless play for votes vis a vis his unborn grandchild. Fun stuff.
The YouTube questioner is right: Immigrants are much more likely than native-born Americans to start their own businesses. According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants account for almost 28.5 percent of all new entrepreneurs and have an entrepreneurship rate almost twice as high as that of native-born workers. Meanwhile, the overall U.S. startup rate has been falling for decades.
It’s interesting that this debate over immigration is centering so much on Rubio and Bush, because Florida — where both men are from — has also been at the center of the academic debate over the effects of immigration on the wages of American workers. It turns out, it’s a tricky question.
There is widespread agreement among economists that immigration helps the overall economy and boosts incomes for Americans on average. But there’s much less agreement about how immigration affects the low-skilled, blue-collar American workers who compete most directly with immigrants for jobs.
A famous 1990 study by economist David Card used the “Mariel boatlift” (the massive influx of Cuban migrants into Miami in 1980) to study the question and concluded that even a sudden surge of immigration has virtually no effect on the wages of low-skilled American workers. But a recent paper by Harvard economist George Borjas, a longtime immigration skeptic, called Card’s findings into question. There have been two more rounds of back-and-forth on the question in just the past two months.
For policy wonks, this kind of real-time research battle is great fun. But for journalists, it makes it hard to fact-check candidates’ claims. The safest thing we can say is this: If candidates say immigration is bad for wages, they’re wrong. If they say it’s bad for wages of certain groups, they may be right, but no one knows for sure.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth about the specifics of the candidates’ stances on immigration, but a December AP-GfK poll found that immigration wouldn’t be a decisive factor in Republicans’ pick for president. Of those surveyed, 4 in 10 conservative Republicans and 3 in 10 tea party Republicans favored a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country illegally.
Cruz mentions that the immigration bill he’s being questioned about was 1,000 pages long. Citing a big number of pages is a favorite debate tactic. But lots of important bills have that many pages or more. “Bills are getting longer because they’re getting harder to pass,” Slate reported in 2009.
John Wayne Walding has been speaking at the Trump rally for the past few minutes, telling his story about what it’s like the be “a barrel-chested Green Beret” who lost his leg in Afghanistan. At the top of his speech, he said that his talk wasn’t political — he’s mostly confined his remarks to veterans issues, recalling the way that American soldiers returning from Vietnam were sometimes treated and citing the stat that 22 veterans commit suicide per day. The Washington Post noted that this widely cited figure is usually given within the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but that it undercuts the fact that a fairly high number of these suicides are committed by older veterans. The Post pointed to a study that showed “the suicide rate for veterans who served in recent wars is much lower than 22 a day.”
“We are not going to round up and deport 12 million people,” said Rubio, while defending his record on immigration and having a testy exchange with Bush about when and how each man decided to support a path to legalization. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has recently begun so far limited — but hotly contested — immigration raids targeting families who crossed the border illegally in recent years.
There’s a perception that Marco Rubio is locked into third place in the Iowa caucuses, behind (in some order) Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But that’s not necessarily true. Rubio’s pretty clearly in third place in the polls now, but the polls are often pretty far off in Iowa, and a lot can change at the last minute, especially with so many candidates still in the running. Our primary forecast models estimate not just the chance of a candidate winning, but also finishing in second or third. According to the polls-only version of our forecast, Rubio has a 41 percent chance of finishing in third place. But he also has a 25 percent chance of finishing higher than third, and a 33 percent chance of finishing fourth or worse. (These numbers don’t exactly sum to 100 percent because of rounding.)