Happy Hour Debate (7PM ET)
The fourth debate between Republican candidates for their party's 2016 presidential nomination was held on November 10, 2015 at the Milwaukee Theater, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These walls have seen much. In 1912, while campaigning for his own presidential bid, Theodore Roosevelt attended this venue and delivered a 90 minute address – despite having been shot in the chest moments earlier by a would-be assassin. When Roosevelt took the stage, he produced his written speech, which was red and wet with blood from his fresh wound. Amid horrified gasps of shock from the audience, Roosevelt defiantly declared, “It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” After the event, he sought medical care and was tended.
The debate was hosted by Fox Business News, which consulted four recent opinion polls on the candidates to decide who would be invited. By this metric, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were disqualified from the primetime debate due to their poor numbers; these two, along with similarly weak candidates Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, were relegated to the standard pre-debate (also known by various other nicknames, including the “happy hour” debate and, unflatteringly, the “kiddy table”). The cited polls also showed that Dr Ben Carson has continued his aggressive strengthening in support, so that he now shares the GOP top spot with one-time runaway leader Donald Trump.
Journalists Neil Cavuto, Maria Bartiromo, and Gerard Baker served as the event's moderators. This was the first debate to occur after the CNBC-hosted third GOP debate, which was widely criticized for its' moderators questioning and management style. In the wake of that incident, several Republican candidates called for changes to tonight's format and rules, but they were unable to agree on a unified package of demands, and this debate's only major change was the elimination of opening statements from each of the contenders.
As with previous debates, the focus of tonight's event was stated to be the economy, and indeed, a majority of the moderators' questions centered on this issue. The evening's opening question addressed an economic point directly, citing widespread working-class protests demanding an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and asking the candidates whether they would support such a move. The two frontrunners weighed in, with Donald Trump saying that he could not sympathize with the protesters because their demands would make the United States less competitive for global business, while Ben Carson said that allowing low wages creates more jobs that give entry-level workers an opportunity to gain experience which could help them find better paying work in the future. Both men said they would not raise the minimum wage. Later, income inequality was invoked, with now-familiar statistics being cited by moderators on the increasing pay multiplier enjoyed by corporate executives over average Americans. Senator Rand Paul responded that while the numbers may be true, the most prime examples of the phenomenon were to be found in cities run by Democratic mayors, states run by Democratic governors, and “countries currently run by Democrats”.
Nevertheless, money matters were not the only topics of discussion. In fact, heading into the debate, it was widely expected that Ben Carson would be questioned – by his opponents if not by the moderators – about a recent controversy concerning claims he made that he had been offered a “full scholarship” by a military academy, with various news organizations reporting that this never actually happened. Moderator Neil Cavuto took point in addressing the matter, though he did so with conspicuous kindness, never directly mentioning the scholarship affair and instead asking Carson why the media was “obsessed” with details about himself and his campaign. The allusion to the real point was so obvious that Carson amicably called it out by explicitly thanking Cavuto for not “asking about what I said in the 10th grade”, when Carson first made the remarks. He concluded his answer by declaring that anyone who knows him knows that he is an honest person, drawing applause from the audience. Notably, Donald Trump – again, now in a statistical dead heat with Carson for first place among GOP candidates – did not press the issue.
Trump did fire on all bores, however, when John Kasich called “silly” the idea of rounding up all illegal immigrants currently in the country and deporting them, a key aspect of Trump's platform. Trump prefaced his response by dismissing Kasich's success as a governor with the words, “first of all, you're lucky in Ohio that you struck oil”, and went on to say that deporting illegals was not only possible, but necessary. He then spoke of his accomplishments in building a successful major business, and said he didn't “need to hear from this man”.
Another of the debate's highlights occurred when Senator Rand Paul questioned the conservative credentials of Senator Marco Rubio's budget proposal. Paul wondered whether Rubio's budget – which includes some $1 trillion in additional military spending – was not in fact liberal in its flagrant expenditure. Rubio defended his idea by stating that there can be no economy at all without safety for the nation, and specifically cited the threats of global terrorists such as ISIS and hostile Middle Eastern nations, to loud applause. Paul responded that a strong military does not make the nation any safer from bankruptcy court, with his own supporters in the audience cheering.
Over the course of the event, foreign policy and Russian military intervention in Syria were discussed, and, with attention consistently centered on the economy, tax reform. At one point, candidates were asked whether they would ever agree to bail out troubled banks deemed “too big to fail” (which has happened in recent years, to the popular outrage of the American public). Though the contenders were generally unfriendly towards the idea, Senator Ted Cruz pointed out that he was the only one to explicitly state that he would let the banks die, offering them no greater help than an emergency loan at high interest through the Fed. Meanwhile, Donald Trump seemed somewhat subdued tonight when compared with previous debates, but he still got in a few scathingly undiplomatic remarks, such as when Carly Fiorina began speaking over Rand Paul, prompting Trump to ask “why does she keep interrupting everybody?”
Opening statements were not allowed during this debate, but the evening concluded with an allotment of time for each candidate to make closing remarks. Rand Paul used his to again take a shot at excessive military spending and call himself “the only fiscal conservative on the stage”, while Carly Fiorina spoke of the horrors of a Hillary Clinton presidency and said that she could stop it from happening. Donald Trump touted his success as a businessman and said that under his leadership, America could be “better than ever before”.