The first Republican debate is over; why aren’t you watching the last episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”?
If only Stewart’s tenure could last one more day. What would he say about Donald Trump’s lonely hand-in-the-air refusal to swear off a third-party run? Or the Chris Christie vs. Rand Paul throwdown? We’ll never know, but as a balm, here’s Stewart anticipating tonight’s debate:
Good night, everyone. Check back with us tomorrow for more post-debate analysis.
The Fox News moderators managed to cover a lot of topics tonight. Foreign policy was the largest single category (10 questions), but social issues ranked second if abortion, gay marriage and a few miscellaneous questions are all counted together (eight questions total).
Nine other Republicans got a chance to share a stage with Donald Trump tonight, and while Trump remained the literal and figurative center of attention, he didn’t dominate the conversation to the same extent that he has in the past month.
Below, I’ve compiled data from Google Trends on search traffic for the GOP candidates — both over the past month and during the two hours of the debate. In each case, I’ve benchmarked Trump’s search traffic as 100 and compared the other candidates against him.
Overall during the past month, Trump has received about three times as much search traffic as the other nine candidates combined! In the debate Trump still led, but not by as much. Ben Carson got about three-fifths as much search traffic as Trump, for example.
The Google search numbers didn’t totally square with how the journalists I follow on Twitter scored the debate. John Kasich was a big winner in the debate room before a home crowd in Cleveland, and also in the press file, but his search traffic was just middling. Carson, conversely, did well in search despite middling reviews from the media.
Bush had the most questions directed to him by the moderators tonight (I’m not counting interruptions, follow-ups and closing statements). Despite Carson’s complaints, he’s comfortably in the middle of the pack, while Paul appears to have needed his frequent interruptions to be heard.
One striking thing about tonight’s debate: how little of a role the economy played. Sure, there were scattered references to jobs and incomes, and there was a section of the debate that focused on economic issues. But in a sharp contrast to four years ago, the candidates often seemed eager to shift attention to other issues.
On the one hand, that shouldn’t be too surprising. The economy is in far better shape than it was four years ago. Job growth has been consistently strong. (Tune in tomorrow for our regular, if bleary-eyed, coverage of the monthly jobs report!) The unemployment rate is quickly returning to normal levels. Corporate profits have been strong, and the broader economy has generally weathered the various challenges thrown at it, including a crisis in Europe and a slowdown in China.
But on the other hand, Americans remain cautious about the state of the economy. Weak wage growth has left many Americans feeling that the economic recovery is leaving them behind. And although inequality has generally been seen as a Democratic issue, it seems like there should be an opening for a Republican willing to challenge President Obama’s record on the issue. I’d expected more discussion of the economy in this debate, and I hope we’ll see more the next time around.
I have thoughts about who won and lost the debate, but I’m not trusting myself on who will drop or get a bounce out of the debate. Why? As Lynn Vavreck pointed out, a key experiment out of Arizona State in 2004 showed that voters’ minds can be greatly shaped by who the media says won or lost the debate. So while it pains me to watch cable news, I’ll be paying attention to the talking heads tonight and over the next few days.
Just check his glowing Twitter mentions from members of the press corps: The media horde is likely to declare John Kasich the winner of the debate. For viewers at home, he’s not as much of a standout, at least based on his middling Google search traffic. But the post-debate spin often matters more than the reality.
Rand Paul brags he has a balanced budget and says he wants to cut foreign aid to countries that “hate us.” That’s fine, but the two ideas have very little to do with each other.
The U.S. spends less than $50 billion a year on foreign aid, less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
Kasich may be smart to try to play a middle ground on gay marriage. While most Republicans are against same-sex marriage, my previous study indicated same-sex marriage was probably the second biggest reason why independents chose not to identify with the Republican Party. It’s a policy on which Republicans disagree with most Americans.
Marco Rubio just disputed Megyn Kelly’s assertion that he favors abortion rights in the case of rape. Most Republicans, however, say in poll after poll that abortion should be legal if a rape has been committed. In the 2014 General Social Survey, for example, 68 percent of Republicans said as much.
I asked the FiveThirtyEight staff who they thought was winning the debate, and there were mostly crickets in the room, with tentative votes for Kasich and Rand Paul. Google search traffic seems to be pretty equivocal on that question too. But it’s likely that the conventional wisdom will settle around one or two names between now and 11:30 p.m. or so; the media won’t like the narrative that the debate was a draw.
I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear a question about entrepreneurship in a presidential debate.
To read most media coverage, you’d think the U.S. was in the midst of an entrepreneurial boom. But the economic data tell the opposite story: The rate at which Americans start businesses has been falling for decades.
Marco Rubio’s answer focused on regulations, including Obamacare. Truth is, economists aren’t sure why the startup rate is falling, but the decline has mirrored similar trends in labor participation, job turnover and geographic mobility (how often people move between cities). Economists worry that suggests the U.S. economy is losing the flexibility that helped fuel its past growth.
There’s probably no single policy that would help reverse those trends. But it’s good to see the problem entering into mainstream political discourse.
Half of the field has gone on talking past the buzzer. Bush, Christie, Huckabee, Kasich and Trump are the offenders, each breaking the rules once. (Nine out of 10 may feel that Trump’s campaign is a continuous interruption of the GOP primary).
Republicans love to claim the Affordable Care Act – you know, “Obamacare” – is killing full-time jobs. There’s precious little evidence to support that claim.
The quick version of the argument is that under Obamacare, companies with at least 50 employees will have to start offering health insurance to anyone working at least 30 hours a week. In theory, that incentivizes companies to limit the number of employees working 30 hours or more. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence of that happening and, as I wrote earlier this year, some limited evidence in the jobs data, too.
But let’s be clear: If Obamacare is having an effect, it’s a small one. The vast majority of hiring during the recovery has been in full-time jobs, as the chart below shows. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines full-time as 35 hours, not 30, so the chart isn’t a perfect measure of the law’s effect. But the big picture is clear.)
Can we please get a breakdown of how much America’s pimps have paid into the Social Security system?
Chris Christie wants to raise the retirement age for Social Security, which could be electoral poison: 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 are against this. That’s a very big problem for a candidate who’s relying on doing well in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of Republican primary voters were over the age of 50 in 2012.
Jeb Bush got attacked by Democrats last month when he said Americans “need to work more hours.” But as I wrote at the time, he’s right that far too many Americans are stuck in part-time jobs. He reiterated that point tonight, but without the inflammatory “work more hours” language.
John Kasich just hit on a very important point when it comes to economic growth. He wanted to help people “in the shadows.” As we might remember, Mitt Romney had a big empathy problem in 2012. Yet, this is actually more of a Republican problem than a Romney problem. In every election since 1984, more voters have said the Democratic candidate cared more about them than the Republican candidate.
Jeb Bush says his economic success in Florida shows how he can achieve 4 percent annual economic growth as president. How credible is his 4 percent pledge?
In two words: Not very. (See folks, not that hard.)
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, 4 percent growth was pretty common in the U.S. But that was during a period when women were still joining the workforce and baby boomers were entering their prime working years, among other major demographic and social changes. Today, those trends are working against the economy rather than for it. The last time the U.S. experienced 4 percent growth was during the Clinton administration, in what we now recognize as the dot-com bubble.
Still, even if 4 percent growth is unlikely, Bush is right about this much: Economic growth has been consistently disappointing under Obama. That’s especially true given the deep recession, which historically should have led to a strong rebound.
John Kasich started the night justifying expanding Medicaid in Ohio, saying he wanted to get treatment to the mentally ill and people being released from prison. It’s a reasonable justification: More than half of inmates have mental health issues, and before the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of inmates were uninsured when they were released. National estimates before Obamacare was implemented said 57 percent of inmates would be eligible for Medicaid or subsidies under the law.
Google searches in the first 50 minutes of the debate, relative to Donald Trump who we’ve indexed at 100:
Trump is still clearly ahead, although not by nearly as large a margin as he is on an ordinary evening. Cruz and Carson seem to be doing better on the Internet than in the debate room; the reverse is true for Kasich. Scott Walker has been very, very quiet.
Jeb Bush has been having to explain his support for Common Core, which some think will hurt his presidential bid. It should be pointed out that most Republicans in Iowa, home to the first contest in the primary season, don’t seem to mind a candidate who favors Common Core standards. In a February 2015 Marist College poll, 57 percent of Iowa Republicans said a Common Core candidate would be acceptable.
Rand Paul may not be hawkish on foreign policy, but he’s the most pugilistic speaker on stage. He’s made three times as many interruptions as the rest of the candidates combined (Trump and Walker have each interrupted the moderator once).