Kevin Drum

We Are Live Blogging the GOP Presidential Debate in Milwaukee

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 8:34 PM EST

After a while, these debates all seem to blur into one another. But let's take a crack at evaluating tonight's performances.

John Kasich was very aggressive tonight, barging in and demanding time frequently. At times, he took a moderate stance, suggesting that the others were nuts. At other times—on foreign policy, for example—he was trying to sell himself as the toughest guy on stage. It's a high-risk-high-reward strategy, which is probably appropriate for him right now. Overall, I'd say he benefited a bit, though it's a little hard to say for sure. There were clearly a couple of points when the crowd wasn't with him.

Ben Carson sort of faded into the woodwork. He didn't really address any policy issues at all. He mostly just offered a gauzy vision of making America better and then rambled a lot. He's going to have to defend his assertion that he could take out ISIS "fairly easily," and that might not go well for him. Not a good night for him.

Donald Trump was fairly restrained. He had the best impromptu line of the night when he asked Carly Fiorina, "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?" Probably not fair, but a good barb nonetheless. On another subject, his mini-fight with Bush was, perhaps, the first time he's really articulated his vision of staying out of the Middle East and letting everyone else fight it out for us. I'm not sure how that will go over.

Jeb Bush was, as usual, unremarkable. I don't think he made any big mistakes, but I don't think he helped his cause either. He tried to sound tough on foreign policy, but his actual proposals were tepid. And he was overtly dovish on immigration, which might not help him either.

Ted Cruz was his usual blustery self. I'd sure like to know the fifth agency he wants to eliminate, though. Overall, he said nothing new or memorable.

Rand Paul was....Rand Paul. Meh.

Carly Fiorina was in fine fettle. She apparently decided before the debate to mention "zero-based budgeting" and "three-page tax plan" every possible chance she got. I think she even shoehorned it into a question about foreign policy. I'm just not sure this works, though. Zero-based budgeting was a conservative hot button 30 years ago, but nobody much cares about it today. And the three-page tax plan just isn't going to resonate if she continues to refuse to say what would actually be in this plan.

Marco Rubio was pretty controlled, and got his points across regardless of what the moderators asked. His machine-gun style doesn't do much for me, but I suppose it might seem knowledgeable and high-energy to some people. However, one of these days he might actually have to answer that question about his child tax credit being a new entitlement. Luckily for him, that stuff all bogged down in a discussion about "refundable" tax credits, which I doubt many people understood.

Bottom line: I'd guess that Rubio, Fiorina, and Kasich might benefit a little from their performances. Bush, Cruz, and Trump probably stayed even—though Cruz's bluster might have gone over better than I think. Carson might dip a bit. Paul will stay the non-factor he's always been.

The moderators were OK, but boy did they maintain the reputation of Fox for going easy on Republicans. They didn't push at all on anything that might have hurt any of the candidates. And despite Bartiromo's promise, none of them even remotely tried to challenge the candidates on their tax plans. They basically asked how it would add up, and then let their answers stand without comment.

Transcript here.

OK, I'm up for this. Are you up for this? Sure you are! Together, we can get through the full two hours. We can do it! We can!

11:18 - And that's a wrap.

11:17 - Trump: I'm spending my own money in this campaign. Actually, no, he isn't.

11:14 - Carson: fight political correctness!

11:13 - Jeb wants to rebuild the VA.

11:12 - Fiorina: America will literally collapse if Hillary Clinton becomes president.

11:11 - Kasich worries about his children and grandchildren if Hillary Clinton is president.

11:10 - Time for closing statements!

11:09 - Trump: bring back profits from overseas with a tax holiday. Paul: drill, baby, drill. Bush: natural gas is great.

11:04 - Cruz also says Hillary sucks.

11:01 - Bartiromo: Hillary Clinton has an impressive resume. Audience boos. Not really sure what the question is, but Rubio says Hillary sucks and this election is about the future.

10:59 - Hey, I thought Donald Trump had personally guaranteed this debate wouldn't go over two hours. What's the deal?

10:58 - Fiorina: Dodd-Frank is socialism. Freddie Mac was responsible for housing bust. Etc.

10:54 - Kasich: Put a sock in it, Cruz. Real executives need to make decisions, not philosophize. Kasich says he wouldn't bail out banks, but would help the hardworking folks who put money in the bank. Big boos!

10:51 - Cavuto: Just to be clear, if Bank of America were on the brink, would you let it fail? Cruz: Yes. Also: we need fewer philosopher kings at the Fed. And the gold standard would be great for working men and women!

10:50 - Cavuto: Would you go after Wall Street crooks like Bernie Sanders? Freudian slip, I guess. Cruz would "absolutely" go after them. We need less cronyism. Blah blah blah.

10:48 - Kasich: too much greed on Wall Street.

10:46 - Question to Carson about big banks. This ought to be good. Answer: shouldn't allow banks to "just enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities." Low interest rates are bad. We need less regulation. Hurts the poor and middle class because it raises the cost of a bar of soap by ten cents. Baker: OK, but would you break up the big banks? Carson: I wouldn't allow them to get big in the first place. But, no, I wouldn't tear down banks that already exist.

10:40 - Bush thinks we should raise capital requirements on banks. He says we've reduced them. This is totally wrong.

10:37 - Kasich winds up with yet more whining about not getting enough time. Put a sock in it, John. Besides, what about Ted Cruz? He seems to have virtually disappeared for the past half hour.

10:36 - Kasich: If anyone cyberattacks us, they should know we will destroy their means to perform cyberattacks. Not really clear what this means. Then a tour of the world showing what a tough guy he is.

10:32 - Rubio: Putin sucks. Obama sucks. Blah blah blah, machine gun speech about all the terrible people in the world. Big cheers.

10:31 - Trump to Fiorina: "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?"

10:28 - Fiorina says she's met Putin not in a green room, like Trump, but in a private meeting. Yee haw!

10:26 - Bush says Trump is full of shit. Trump says we have no idea who the rebels are. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. He almost sounds like a Democrat. Almost.

10:24 - Trump is now in full ADD mode on foreign policy. Syria! China! Putin! Ukraine! Germany! But we can't be policeman of the world.

10:22 - Bush says America needs to lead in the Middle East. But his plan is distinctly small-bore: no-fly zone, support the rebels, think about the refugees.

10:18 - Carson: we have to oppose Putin in Middle East. But it's very complicated. Carson's plan for ISIS: We have to make them look like losers. We do that by taking their oil fields and then destroying them. "We could do this, I believe, fairly easily." Carson says he learned that from "several generals." Names, please!

10:16 - Is anyone ever going to ask Fiorina to describe her tax plan? Come on. It's only three pages long!

10:14 - Paul thinks Congress should have the ability to amend treaties. This would, of course, make it impossible to negotiate treaties.

10:11 - Trump says TPP is worst trade deal ever. We should sign deals with each country separately instead. Baker: Is there anything in particular you dislike about TPP? Trump: It doesn't do anything about currency manipulation. China is killing us! Rand Paul points out that China isn't part of the deal.

10:10 - Kasich tries to barge in. Baker finally shuts him up. Kasich is whining a lot tonight.

10:09 - Trump: We need a big military so no one will mess with us.

10:09 - Now Fiorina goes into yet another riff about zero-based budgeting and the three-page tax code. Jesus.

10:07 - Now everyone wants to chime in to show that they want a kick-ass military too.

10:05 - Now Rubio and Paul get into a fight. Somehow this ends up with Rubio saying he wants to spend more on defense, unlike Paul, who's a big wimp. Then a riff about having the most powerful military in the world. Huge cheers.

10:04 - Baker asks Rubio if his child tax credit is just a new entitlement. Rubio doesn't really respond. He just natters on about how important the family is.

10:03 - Jeb Bush delivers some argle bargle about needing a better economy.

10:00 - Cruz would cut five agencies: IRS, Commerce, Energy, Commerce, and HUD. Paging Rick Perry!

9:56 - Rand Paul wants a flat tax. Ted Cruz wants a flat tax. Cruz promises that his plan totally adds up and it abolishes the IRS. The result will be incredible economic growth.

9:52 - Cavuto wants to know which tax plan God would prefer: Trump's or Carson's? Carson sort of rambles on about proportionality and putting more money in people's pockets. Also: his plan will include some kind of rebate for poor people. I believe this is news.

9:49 - The moderators are fulfilling their assigned roles and asking softball questions almost exclusively. Bartiromo said she was going to get to the bottom of all the tax and budget plans, but so far she's done virtually none of that.

9:45 - Fiorina: Nobody can possibly understand Obamacare. Follow-up: What's the alternative? Fiorina: high-risk pools. Obamacare is helping no one and crushing small business. We need free market health care. Also: again with the three-page tax code. Fiorina is really obsessed with this tonight.

9:42 - Cruz delivers pretty good line about elite opinion on immigration being different if it was bankers or journalists crossing the Rio Grande. Probably so!

9:40 - Rubio delivers stock speech about taxes, regulations, energy, and Obamacare.

9:38 - Bush has Kasich's back. We can't just ship all the illegal immigrants back. Big cheers (!).

9:37 - Trump: I'm rich, I don't need to listen to Kasich. Big boos (!).

9:34 - Finally, Kasich starts a fight with Trump over immigration. Then he defends Ohio's honor.

9:32 - Carson: I'm an honest guy. Trump: Immigration is bad.

9:27 - Very subdued debate so far. Everyone seems to have decided that fighting each other just makes the whole field look like children. I wonder how long this will last?

9:26 - Rand Paul goes through a riff on the Fed that I honestly didn't understand. Plus: we should all move to cities and states with Republicans in charge.

9:23 - Fiorina: We need five things. Zero-based budgeting. Three-page tax code. Total review of all regs. Pass the REINS Act. Hold government officials accountable for their performance. Big applause.

9:20 - What specific regs would Bush cut? Answer: repeal every rule Obama has put in place. Internet. Clean power. Water. Repeal 'em all.

9:17 - Cruz says keys to economic growth are tax reform, slashing regulations, and sound money.

9:14 - What would you cut from the budget? Kasich tap dances. Doesn't mention a single thing he'd cut. Follow-up: he'd cut Social Security. And Medicaid. Freeze nondiscretionary spending. Increase defense spending. So: cut basically all domestic spending and increase defense spending.

9:10 - Rubio: if we raise the minimum wage, people will be more expensive than machines. We need more welders and fewer philosophers. (No, I don't get it either.)

9:08 - Carson: people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Wages are too high. Lower wages will create more jobs. High wages create dependency, or something.

9:06 - Trump opposes $15 minimum wage because....we don't win anymore. Also: wages are too high. People are just going to have to buck up.

9:04 - Could Jeb Bush possibly look less enthusiastic during the introductions?

9:00 - And we're off. But first, an inspiring video.

8:58 - Tonight features 90-second answers from the candidates. Substantive!

8:57 - Everybody is already at their podiums. I miss having them walk in and wave.

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Maybe Conservatives Have a Point About the War on Christmas

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 7:44 PM EST

Joshua Feuerstein has earned 15 million views for his viral Facebook video claiming that "Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups." And you know, the guy has a point. We liberals have been mocking the "War on Christmas" for years, but this time maybe we've finally gone too far. Take a look at last year's cup and this year's cup and you be the judge.

Let's Get the Ben Carson Story Right

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 5:07 PM EST

I just finished a Twitter conversation about Ben Carson's Yale psychology test story, and I want to pass along a point that I think too many people don't get. The core of Carson's story isn't really about how he endured the hoax test longer than anyone else. It's about how he was more honest than the others. Here's the relevant section of Gifted Hands:

As I stared at the questions, I couldn't believe them either. They were incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

...."Forget it," I heard one girl say to another. "Let's go back and study this. We can say we didn't read the notice.".... Immediately three others packed away their papers....Soon half the class was gone, and the exodus continued.

....Within half an hour from the time the examination began, I was the only student left in the room. Like the others, I was tempted to walk out, but I had read the notice, and I couldn't lie and say I hadn't. All the time I wrote my answers, I prayed for God to help me figure what to put down. I paid no more attention to departing footsteps.

Suddenly the door of the classroom opened noisily...."What's going on?" I asked. "A hoax," the teacher said. "We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class." She smiled again. "And that's you."

But why would the hoaxsters tell him he was the most honest person in the class? To them, it was just a prank. The bit about honesty derives solely from Carson hearing the conversation behind him. This is, however, the core of his story—and no matter what else we find out, it's almost certainly been invented out of whole cloth.

Which is, of course, pretty ironic.

Chart of the Day: Civil Asset Forfeiture Is a Moral Abomination

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 3:37 PM EST

I have never understood why civil asset forfeiture doesn't inspire more outrage. For liberals it's a plain-and-simple civil liberties issue. For conservatives, it's an out-of-control big government issue. There should be almost unanimous agreement that it's a horrific, unconstitutional practice that should be halted immediately. If police suspect that money or property has been used in the commission of a crime, they should be the ones that have to go to court to prove it. They should not be allowed to simply seize the assets and then force the victim into a Byzantine and expensive maze to get them back.

This seems self-evident. And yet, nothing other than small tweaks to the system ever get done. It's considered tough on crime, I guess, and that makes conservatives love it and liberals afraid of it. Or something.

But guess what? A few years ago the practice started getting more publicity—books, videos, training sessions, etc.—and it took off. And why not? Budgets were tight, and police departments are allowed to keep a portion of all the money they seize. How fast did it grow? A rough guide to the value of civil asset forfeitures is the net assets in the Assets Forfeiture Fund maintained by the Department of Justice. After 20 years of relatively slow growth, it suddenly exploded, going from under $1 billion in 2006 to $4.5 billion in 2014. This chart comes from "Policing for Profit," recently released by the Institute of Justice:

This is by no means a total measure of civil asset forfeitures. As the report notes, "deriving similar totals at the state level is impossible because most states require little to no public reporting of forfeiture activity." But a pretty good guess is that it amounts to $300-400 million every year.

It's a disgrace. At the very least, victims should have the right to a quick, cheap adjudication in which the police would have to present compelling evidence in order to keep the assets they've seized. But really, there's no reform that can possibly make it right. I've heard all the defenses of the practice, and they don't change the picture by much more than a hair. This is something that should be stopped, period.

Maybe We Should Dial Down the Cheering For Missouri's Football Players

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 1:47 PM EST

Here is Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post today:

Too often college athletes wind up in the news for reasons other than how they played—and not in a good way. But we can thank black players on the University of Missouri football team for giving us some off-field action to cheer about.

I've read at least a dozen versions of this sentiment, and I'd like to suggest that everyone reflect on this a bit before buying into it. A bunch of football players announced they'd no longer play until the university president resigned. After two months of inaction over accusations of racism on campus, he resigned almost immediately.

So, sure, good for them. But are we really happy that college football players apparently have this much power? Do we want to encourage it? We might all want to give this a bit of thought before we start cheering too hard.

Ted Cruz Explains Which Religions Are OK for American Presidents

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 1:12 PM EST

From Ted Cruz, explaining his own personal religious test for political candidates:

Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander in chief of this nation.

Atheists are taking offense at this, but as I understand it, Jews don't kneel when they pray. So....I guess Cruz doesn't think Jews are fit to be president either.

That's ridiculous, of course. Cruz was just using a metaphor for praying, so Jews are OK as long as they pray every day. It's only nonbelievers who are unfit for public office.

And that's no metaphor at all. So here's my question: the press threw a fit when Ben Carson suggested that Muslims weren't fit to be president. Will they throw a similar fit now that Cruz has suggested atheists are unfit to be president? This is, of course, a rhetorical question, so there's no need to answer. I think we all know this will be treated as a meaningless pander because, you know, atheists. Who cares about them?

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PPP Uses the Power of Pyramids to Figure Out Which Republican Candidate Has the Weirdest Supporters

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 12:17 PM EST

One of the charming things about Public Policy Polling is that they have a habit of asking weird questions that no one else will. Today's example: What do you think the pyramids were built for? This is for South Carolina only, and sadly, they only asked Republicans. Still, the breakdown by candidate gives us a peek at which of them has the weirdest supporters. Results are on the right.

It's a close call, but Donald Trump's supporters seem to have the best handle on reality. Marco Rubio (!) runs away with the grain crowd, beating out even heavy favorite Ben Carson. And Jeb Bush ekes out a win from the aliens crowd. This is not, perhaps, what you would expect. I wonder why Rubio has so many supporters who believe the grain theory but none who believe the aliens theory? It is a mystery.

Tonight's GOP Debate Will Be All About Pressing Hard on Tax and Budget Proposals

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 11:46 AM EST

Tonight's Republican debate starts up at 9 pm Eastern.1 One of the moderators has some advice for the candidates:

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo believes the Republicans are not helping themselves by whining about the moderators at the primary debates. “President Obama said it, and it was true,” she said during a conversation at the FBN offices in midtown Manhattan a few days before she takes the stage for the channel’s Nov. 10 primary debate in Milwaukee. “If these guys can’t deal with the moderators, how are you going to be able to deal with Russia and China?”

“I guess it’s become cool to slap around the moderator. That’s OK,” said Bartiromo....Her approach will include pressing the candidates for details on their tax and budget proposals. “I’m clear on where the holes may be in their plans so I can try to solicit information and help the viewer,” she said. “As far as worrying ‘what if he says this to me, what if he does that to me’ — I don’t have time for that.”

Amusingly, both of the moderators of tonight's debate used to work for CNBC, which got trashed by Republicans for its performance a couple of weeks ago. So they have an extra special incentive to show that they can do better.

Anyway, I'm eager to hear Bartiromo press the candidates on their phantasmic tax and budget proposals, and I'm especially eager to hear her ferociously attack the holes in their plans. I wonder how that's going to go?

1Of course I'll be liveblogging it. What else would I be doing with my evening? First, though, I need to figure out what channel my cable provider has consigned the Fox Business Network to. For those of you who don't get FBN, they will be livestreaming the debate on No cable subscription required.

Here's a List of 8 Discrepancies in Ben Carson's Yale Hoax Story

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 10:50 AM EST

A team of reporters from BuzzFeed has been busy calling everyone they could find who was associated with the Yale Record in 1970, when they hoaxed some students into retaking the final exam in a psychology class. Nobody could remember anything about it except for Curtis Bakal, who confirmed that the hoax had been carried out:

“We did a mock parody of the Yale Daily News during the exam period in January 1970, and in this parody we had a box that said: ‘So-and-so section of the exam has been lost in a fire. Professor so-and-so is going to give a makeup exam.’”

“We got a room to do the test in and one of us from the Record impersonated a proctor to give the test,” he said....Bakal, the Record editorial assistant at the time, remembered other details about the prank that are compatible with Carson’s account, such as the unusual difficulty of the test. “Several students showed up, and the fake exam, a parody of exam — in fact, it had real psych questions, because I had taken the class the year before, but it was a more difficult and probing personal exam,” he said.

....Bakal also backed up Carson’s claim that “at the end what few students remained — it may have just been one or two, I wasn’t there — received a small cash prize.”

Bakal also says he's "99% certain the way Carson remembers it is correct." But that's not so clear. Let's keep all the discrepancies front and center:

  1. Carson says the class was Perceptions 301. It was actually Psychology 10. (Carson now says that his ghostwriter might have made up a course name and number "just to give it more meat.")
  2. Carson says the professor handed out the exam papers and picked them up. Bakal says it was a fake proctor.
  3. Carson says there were 150 students in the retest. The writeup of the hoax the next day says "several" students showed up.
  4. Bakal says the remaining students received a "small cash prize" at the end. But ten dollars was a fair sum at the time, about equivalent to $60 today.
  5. Carson says the hoax happened during his junior year (1972). The Record hoax actually took place in 1970.
  6. Carson says a photographer took his picture at the end. Bakal doesn't mention this.
  7. Carson says the professor was a woman. That's unlikely since Yale had very few female instructors at the time, but it's possible. However, Bakal says "one of us" from the Record impersonated a proctor. Yale only began admitting women that year, and it's pretty unlikely that the Record would have sent over a freshman woman to impersonate a proctor.
  8. Finally, and most importantly, Carson says the professor/proctor told him he was the most honest person in the course because he had stuck it out to the end. This is absolutely central to Carson's story. But that never happened. The Record proctor might have told him he was the most gullible person in the course, but that's about it.

The likely response from the Carson camp is that I'm nitpicking. When Carson wrote about this, the hoax was 20 years in the past and he may have gotten a few details wrong. Fair enough for minor stuff. But a hoax like this would have been pretty memorable. He wouldn't misremember a female professor with a starring role. The fact that it took place in his junior year was a key part of the story, but it didn't happen then. The photographer seems entirely made up. And the business about getting an award for honesty, which is also central to his story, didn't happen.

At best, the hoax happened during Carson's freshman year in Psychology 10, and he then embellished it considerably in order to make it a proper testimonial to the power of God. At worst, he simply heard about the hoax and used it as the basis for a completely invented story in his book. I don't know which. But either way, the story in his book is substantially exaggerated in ways that really matter. This is not just nitpicking.

How Honest Is Your State?

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 11:27 PM EST

This year, the Center for Public Integrity has once again ranked all 50 states for their transparency and accountability. A high score means your state is tolerably honest. A low score means corruption galore. AJ Vicens has the whole story here, along with plenty of detail.

But for those of you who just want the tl;dr version, I'm here to help. The chart below shows how all 50 states did. Congratulations, Michigan! You're our most corrupt state, edging out Wyoming by a few tenths of a point. In the "beats expectations" category, I think I'd give the award to Illinois, with New Jersey as runner-up. In the "most disappointing" category, I'd pick Oregon, which really brought down the otherwise impressive performance by the Western states.