At the first official Republican debate, ten candidates talked about a lot of things, but what might be more notable is what never came up. Topics like ISIS, government surveillance, the various ways to roll back women’s reproductive rights, and even whether they’d received word from God took precedence over a lot of other issues that have been seizing the national conversation.
Despite the fact that candidates gathered on stage in Cleveland, Ohio on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act getting signed into law, there wasn’t a single question or candidate answer the referenced this historic advancement in voting rights or the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the law in 2013. Off the debate stage, Republicans have been fixated on the idea of voter fraud, a vanishingly small problem, and have used it to justify laws around the country that tighten restrictions on voters. Voter ID laws, a particularly popular tactic for Republicans, have been shown to disproportionately discriminate against voters of color and low-income voters. The debate also took place the same week a federal court ruled that Texas’ strict Voter ID law is unconstitutional.
Paid Family Leave
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has expressed robust support for paid family leave, but the all-male primetime Republican debate panel didn’t mention the policy. The United States remains the only developed economy that doesn’t require some form of paid maternity leave for new mothers. Three states have now taken up a model for paid family leave, and surveys show that not only do workers favor the policy, but the vast majority of employers say it has had a neutral or positive impact on their bottom lines.
Though climate change came up in the early debate with the seven candidates whose polling numbers weren’t high enough to get them into the main debate, the subject didn’t surface with the top ten candidates. Republican candidates have been reluctant to acknowledge that the earth is warming at all, and when they do they’ll often say regulations to enforce carbon emission reductions are too onerous. Candidates also didn’t mention Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan, released this week, which seeks to significantly reduce U.S. emissions from power plants.
College Cost And Student Debt
Candidates on the Democratic side have been talking a lot about student debt and ways to make college more affordable. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he wants to make college free by taxing Wall Street. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley released a “debt-free college” plan, and Hillary Clinton is expected to release her comprehensive plan on Monday. The only candidate on the Republican side who has addressed the issue very much is Marco Rubio, whose innovation on the issue of student debt is to get students to find a rich person to sponsor them through their higher education.
In a summer with several major mass shootings, including one in Charleston where nine members of a prominent African American church were killed by a shooter sympathetic to white supremacist groups, the debate over gun violence didn’t make the cut for issues to discuss with Republican candidates — not even to offer a full-throated defense of Second Amendment rights. Unlike in 2012, when a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut launched an effort to enact moderate background check reforms, there have been very few pushes for gun control after the more recent mass shootings. Amy Schumer, the comedian whose movie was the location of a mass shooting in Louisiana, held a press conference this week on the topic, but on the Republican side, efforts have been restricted to expanding the areas where guns can be carried, including pushes to arm servicemembers at military recruitment centers.
Criminal Justice Reform
Despite the fact that criminal justice reform is an issue gaining traction on the right, its most prominent champion, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), didn’t mention it at the debate. Though the issue of police shootings briefly came up as a question to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he largely dodged it. Black and Hispanic people are far more likely to be imprisoned for minor drug charges, despite the fact that rates of drug use are about the same among those populations as whites.
Though former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee mentioned that, “Most of the income in this country is made by people at the top who get dividends and — and capital gains,” there was little mention of the idea that corporations are getting huge benefits from the current system. Even the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers have come around on corporate welfare, saying that “Business leaders (must) recognize that their behavior is suicide.” This is perhaps because candidates are increasingly beholden to donors who have contributed at least a million dollars to their campaigns.