0 minutes. Fox Business starts by setting the stakes high in Milwaukee. “In this very theater, Teddy Roosevelt campaigned with a bullet still lodged in his chest,” the voiceover intones. The 2016 candidates appear on stage uninjured. But now there is suspense. Fox boss Roger Ailes is a genius.
3 minutes. Introductions time. Developer and celebrity Donald Trump gives the thumbs up. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson manages a slight grin. The son and brother of presidents, Jeb Bush, looks frozen on camera, before he remembers to show energy and bounces in place. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina smiles and waves. “It sounds like a game show, but it’s not,” says moderator Neil Cavuto. The statement needs to be fact-checked.
5 minutes. First question is about the minimum wage, which some cities have been raising to $15 an hour. No one on stage says they are for this. Trump says, “We just can’t do it,” because of global competition. Carson says it would harm the “ladder of opportunity” and reduce the number of jobs, especially for young blacks. Rubio says, “My father was a bartender”—though not, presumably, a bartender who would have liked a $15 minumum wage. As the audience lingers on this thought, Rubio philosophically bashes deep thinkers. “Welders make more money than philosophers,” he says. “We need more welders than philosophers.”
9 minutes. Ohio Gov. John Kasich sees Rubio’s bartender father, and raises him. “My father carried mail on his back,” he says. “His father was a coal miner. He died of black lung.” The other candidates quickly calculate the costs and benefits of inventing stories about their crippled, shoeless, blind fathers, who had to crawl through broken glass uphill in hail storms. All conclude that it is better to just let Kasich win this one.
16 minutes. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gets a softball about why the economy still sucks. He says cutting taxes—10% for personal income and 16% for businesses—will solve the problem. Then he namedrops Ronald Reagan, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy. Not bad.
18 minutes. Next question is for Bush. But Kasich interrupts. “I would like to make comments,” Kasich says. Bush can’t let this happen. He must stand up for himself. “I got four minutes last debate. I’m gonna get my question right now,” Bush says. But not just yet. “I appreciate that, Jeb,” says Kasich, before proceeding to grab the floor. Bush is a gentleman, which is a tough thing to be in a game show. He waits. Poor Bush.
19 minutes. Finally Jeb gets to talk. It’s a softball question that allows him to do his riff on creating 4% economic growth and repealing a bunch of stuff that Obama has done. He gets applause twice, the second time for a dig at Hillary Clinton. Good for him.
21 minutes. This is the fourth debate, which means a lot of repetition. Fiorina says her line about “zero-based budgeting” and her line about the three-page tax code. As is her style, she ends with a declaration in the third person. “Citizens of this nation must help a President Fiorina get it done,” she says. Citizens. Get. It. Done.
25 minutes. After some strong dollar talk from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, we go to commercial. Pretty staid stuff so far. Fox Business said they would stick to issues, and they have. Also the candidates get a full 90 seconds to answer, instead of 60 seconds, which is just better.
29 minutes. Carson gets a chance to bash the media. He does. Applause.
31 minutes. Trump gets a chance to employ the use of superlatives. He does. “Unbelievable… great. . . tremendous. . . unbelievable . . . terrific,” he says. He is talking about the recent appeals court decision which blocked President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
33 minutes. Interrupting Kasich interrupts again, to say that Trump’s plan to deport 11 million people is “silly” and “not an adult argument” and “makes no sense.” The crowd applauds this.
34 minutes. Trump counters by saying Dwight Eisenhower deported a lot of people too. “Good president, great president, people liked him,” Trump says. He is referring to program called “Operation Wetback,” which relocated hundreds of thousands of people in the late 1950s back to Mexico and other points south. Historians have not looked kindly on this effort, and not just because of the name. People were rounded up on ships. In one transfer, 88 people died of heat stroke. “We have no choice. We have no choice,” says Trump.
35 minutes. Gentleman Bush tries to interrupt Kasich. “What happened to my time?” Bush asks. “You should let Jeb speak,” says Trump. But Kasich does not listen, defends his record and jabs back at Trump. “I built an unbelievable company worth billions and billions of dollars,” Trump responds. “I don’t have to hear from this man.” This is an odd thing to say in a presidential debate, where the whole point is to hear from each other.
36 minutes. Finally, Bush gets to speak. “Thank you, Donald, for allowing me to speak at the debate. Really nice of you,” Bush says. “What a generous man you are.” The irony here is tricky. Bush is clearly mocking Trump, but he might also be mocking himself. Bush then says deporting 11 million people would “tear communities apart” and does not embrace “American values.”
38 minutes. The disruption burns itself out. Rubio calms everyone down by talking about how cool it is to explode fruit on your cell phone. “Took the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million users,” he says. “Took ‘Candy Crush’ one year to reach 100 million users.”
40 minutes. Cruz is asked about entitlements, but decides instead to return to the pre-Candy Crush fight. “If Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose,” he says. “I will say for those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told, it is anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” This is not quite an endorsement of Operation Wetback II, but it’s not so far from Trump either.
43 minutes. Fiorina expands upon her war on pages. ObamaCare must be repealed, she says, because it is “tens of thousands of pages long.” The tax code is 73,000 pages. She wants only three pages. The page lobby is in big trouble if Fiorina becomes president.
50 minutes. After another break, Carson talks about the fairness of taxing everyone at the same rate, getting rid of the mortgage interest deducation and the charitable deduction. Paul basically agrees. Then Cruz extends Fiorina’s page war to a war on words. “There are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible,” Cruz says. This is not enough to protect him from the Texas curse. “Five major agencies that I would eliminate,” he says, tempting the ghost of Rick Perry. “The IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and HUD.” Oops.
60 minutes. Bush has a progressive tax structure, with lower rates. But he also has an anecdote, featuring an actual person named Reagan Love and her husband, “who are supporters of mine.” Can’t beat that.
62 minutes. Rubio gets the tax question, but as is his habit, he has to answer like an underpaid philosopher, connecting it all to essential human themes. “The most important job anyone in the room will have is the job of being a parent,” he says, before stumbling, as he repeats himself, with a Freudian slip. “The most important job any of us will be is the job of being a president,” he says.
63 minutes. Maybe because of the slip, Paul sees a chance to attack. He says Marco’s plan to give massive refundable tax transfers to the poor and build up the military is not conservative. Rubio responds by calling Paul a “committed isolationist.” “Marco! Marco!” answers Paul. “How is it conservative to add a trillion dollar expenditure for the federal government that you’re not paying for?” It’s a fair question.
67 minutes. The moderators lose control. Cruz starts going after sugar subsidies. Fiorina says “zero-based budgeting” three times, and then tops it off with “three-page tax code,” again. Trump says “bigger, better, stronger.” Kasich interrupts again.
70 minutes. Trump joins the war on pages. “It’s 5,600 pages long,” he says of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade deal. “Nobody ever read it.” This would be a good challenge for fact-checker. Find the person who read it all.
82 minutes. After a commercial break and lots of bluster for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Bush and Trump get into a fight about foreign policy. Trump says he is happy to let Putin fight ISIS in Syria. Bush says, “That’s like a board game. That’s like playing Monopoly or something.” He means Risk. He also means that Trump’s idea is bad.
86 minutes. More Putin bluster. This guy really gets under everyone’s skin. Not unlike Teddy Roosevelt’s bullet. Fiorina boasts of meeting Putin, like she does just about every debate. Rubio calls him a “gangster.” Another commercial break.
100 minutes. We’re back to talk about banks. But no one really wants to answer the questions. Bush is asked if he would bailout the banks after another financial crises. He says, “We should not have another financial crisis.” Who would disagree? Carson is asked if a bank like J.P. Morgan should be broken up. “We should have policies that do not allow them to enlarge themselves at at the expense of smaller entities,” he says, which sounds like regulation. Except he follows by saying, “What we’ve done now is let the creep of regulation turn into a stampede of regulations.” So it’s not really clear.
105 minutes. Rubio joins the war on pages. He says the banks are big because “the government made them big, by adding thousands of pages of regulation.”
107 minutes. Cruz says the Federal Reserve must be controlled. “A series of philosopher kings trying to guess what is happening with the economy,” he says. If only they were welder kings. At least the pay would be better.
112 minutes. Cruz and Kasich get into it about how the banks should be handled in the next crises. Cruz would not bail them out. Kasich would make sure depositors don’t lose their money. But it’s not clear whether this would extend beyond FDIC insurance solvency to a bailout. Fiorina says “Socialism starts when government creates a problem then steps in to solve the problem.” Socialism begets pages begets socialism.
119 minutes. After another break, Rubio gets a chance to talk about the generational choice with Hillary Clinton. It’s basically stump speech poetry, with another attempt to link Democrats to the page problem. “This nation is going to turn the page, and that’s what this election should be about,” he says. “If I am our nominee, they’ll be the party of the past. We will be the party of the 21st century.”
123 minutes. More stump speech rhetoric. It always happens this way. By the end of these two hour debates, everyone is so tired, that it is hard to do anything else. Paul would repeal regulations. Trump would make America great.
129 minutes. After another break, closing statements. Nothing too surprising. You have heard it before. And you will hear it again. There are a lot of candidates who can ably carry parts of the Republican Party here, and none yet who can unify it all. This will be a long race. The good news: No one was shot.
135 minutes. But Cavuto is going to fix that. As he ends the broadcast, he fires a shot at his competitors, CNBC, who moderated the last debate. “Business issues can be riveting, because it wasn’t about us, it’s about them,” Cavuto says. He is referring to the candidates, but he is talking about himself.