This week’s Republican presidential debates supplied plenty of evidence that the GOP candidates are still pandering to the extreme right-wing factions in their party. For women and people of color, for students and seniors, for middle class Americans of all stripes, the 15 Republican candidates offered little reason to be enthusiastic.
While expounding at length about the rights of homophobic florists and bakers, Donald Trump and Co. blatantly ignored many of the most pressing issues of our time. Only one question addressed the urgent crisis of global warming, and the three candidates who responded to it whiffed big time. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, and Gov. Scott Walker all reaffirmed their commitment to put profits ahead of our planet.
During five hours of debate, not a single candidate mentioned income inequality, college affordability, police brutality, or campaign finance reform. And those are just a few of the important issues ignored by the Republicans last night.
They had plenty of time to talk about shutting down the government, however, and to take President Obama to task for refusing to traffic in their brand of Islamophobia. It was striking really — asked about discrimination against Muslims, Gov. Bobby Jindal claimed the real victims were Christians like Kim Davis, the bigoted Kentucky clerk engaged in a futile attempt to impose her religious views on gay couples seeking to be married in her county.
Former Govs. Jeb Bush and George Pataki were the only candidates to vocally oppose Davis’ stance, because, they said, it was important to follow the law even if you personally disagreed with it. In a country where a solid majority of people support marriage equality, not a single Republican candidate took a stand on the right side of history.
On the subject of foreign policy, only two candidates hesitated to support further Republican warmongering in the Middle East. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked his fellow candidates to commit to deploying thousands of American troops to fight a ground war against the Islamic State, and two of three readily agreed. Left unexplained was how the toxic combination of American military misadventures and violently anti-Muslim rhetoric would help to defeat radical Islam. You cannot drone strike an idea — Western values are only going to gain ground in the Middle East if we can change hearts and minds.
But nuance is not the GOP way. On issue after issue, Republican candidates chose simplistic and blunt solutions over more thoughtful ones. Trump’s infamous pledge to build a massive wall along the Mexican border went unchallenged, and indeed it seemed to have support from most of the candidates. Never mind the fact that such walls have a historically dismal success record over the long term (China’s Great Wall and Hadrian’s Wall being just two examples).
When it comes to dealing with adversarial foreign leaders, the GOP candidates have a simple solution — don’t. Carly Fiorina promised to give Vladimir Putin the silent treatment, and Walker suggested disinviting Xi Jinping from a White House state dinner. Gone are the days of Republican leaders like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, men who could sit down with foreign adversaries and make progress for the good of all involved. These days, the Republican approach to diplomacy is simple: just say “no.”
At some points, the debate veered into the realm of the surreal. Sen. Ted Cruz, in his never-ending effort to get to the ideological right of Attila the Hun, blasted the Bush family for appointing insufficiently conservative Supreme Court justices. Zeroing in on Chief Justice John Roberts, Cruz took issue with the Court’s two 5-4 decisions that upheld Obamacare.
Cruz is partly right; the Roberts Court did make a disastrous 5-4 decision opposed by most Americans — Citizens United. But if you thought Bush or Cruz would to take issue with the legalized bribery Citizens United has unleashed, you clearly must have forgotten the nearly $200 million from wealthy donors they’ve raised since entering the race in the spring.
All in all, it was a dismal night for progress, yet another reminder that one of our country’s two political parties has veered right off a cliff. Even they would seem to agree. All of the candidates seem to be ignoring the 2012 post-mortem, which says they need to focus on immigration reform and embrace minorities and gays.
Sooner or later, Republican voters have to wake up from their five-year Tea Party bender. I just hope they realize their mistake before it’s too late, and we’re reading President Trump’s Inaugural Tweet. Until they sober up, however, it’s up to the rest of us to prevent our country from falling into their hands.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins, 20, is a student at Bates College and a Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. He can be reached on Facebook
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