Crowded Republican debate yields no clear winner

The primary debates organised by Fox News channel and Facebook, in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday.

August 07, 2015 10:23 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:24 pm IST - Washington:

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (Centre) answers a question as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (L) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush look on at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday, August 6, 2015.

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (Centre) answers a question as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (L) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush look on at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday, August 6, 2015.

Ten Republican candidates hoping for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination jostled for space in the soundbite-laden two-hour conservative extravaganza that was the main event in an evening of primary debates organised by Fox News channel and Facebook, in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday.

Among them all the man who continued to provoke the strongest reactions, not always in his favour, was the one who had already surged ahead in five opinion polls and won himself the pole position in the debate – property mogul Donald Trump.

The overall impression made by all the candidates appeared to be less than salutary, going by the outpouring of criticisms on social media, including allegations that the candidates’ arguments lacked depth or that they frequently retreated to well-worn conservative clichés about smaller government and American exceptionalism built on military might.

Notable punch-lines of the night came from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who said, “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things,” from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who said, “The Russian and Chinese government know more about Hillary Clinton’s email server than do the members of the U.S. Congress,” from Ohio Governor John Kasich who struck a progressive note when he said about his attending a gay wedding, “Just because they don’t think the same way doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love them.”

While Mr. Trump could go on to claim points for being the most memorable candidate after peppering his responses with barbs against Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama and his rivals on the stage, he also appeared to absorb blows from others such as Rand Paul, who criticised his alleged record of making cash contributions to Ms. Clinton and others across the aisle, and even from the moderators, who pilloried his reportedly sexist attitude towards women.

Most of the candidates walked the expected line on a host of domestic policy issues, including immigration control, counterterrorism, health care and social security reform, abortion, and gay marriage.

Yet the debate on foreign policy appeared shallow at best, with strong support for military action against the Islamic State jihadist group, threats to “tear up the Iran Deal on Day One,” Mexico and Latin American nations seen merely as sources of unwanted illegal immigration, and Russia and China stereotyped as originators of cyberattacks against the U.S.

Core issues that are likely to be front and centre in the primary debates of the Democratic Party on October 13, including how to improve the economic prospects of the American middle class, questions of income inequality, racial injustice, hate crimes and police excesses against minorities or reining in the economic instability generated by Wall Street either did not feature at all, or were only given a passing mention.

A similar tone and a focus on attacking Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, rather than each candidate differentiating themselves from the rest of the group, was seen in the “undercard debate” held earlier in the evening among those Republican hopefuls who did not make the cut in the polls to join the top ten list, including Indian-American Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

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