CNN/Reagan Library Republican presidential candidate debate report

By George Miller 

Simi Valley, CA — The  GOP presidential candidates went all-out with their A-games on Wednesday. The race may be narrowing down soon, as people polled are getting behind who they think are the strongest candidates backing their agendas and money won’t go to candidates that donors don’t think can win.  The recent departure of former Texas Governor Rick Perry is a good example.

Main debate video (11 candidates):


It wasn’t really as much like this last night:


CNN Transcript: CNN DebateTranscript – Part 1

CNN Transcript: CNN Debate Transcript – Part 2

CNN Transcript: CNN Debate Transcript – Part 3


Secondary debate for bottom 4 candidates:

Multiple candidates scored points, but some of this is in the eye of the beholder. If you don’t believe me, compare, for example, Fox News to Huffington Post debate reports.


Ben Carson at Reagan Library, before debate. Photo: Marc Langsam//

It is becoming more evident that the Republican Party has a number of accomplished, competent candidates, tested in other roles- Governor- Walker, Bush, Kasich, Huckabee, Jindal, Pataki, Christie; Senator- Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Santorum, Graham; business executive- Trump, Fiorina; even physician- Carson. The big decision will be who is the best, who has the positions on the issues most acceptable to the voters and ultimately, who is most likely to win the Presidential election. It appears that the Democratic Party contest may not be a foregone conclusion as some had been saying, so it should be an interesting campaign. There are no third party candidates generating much interest at this time, nor any time since 1992.

Several candidates who were doing better initially have faded, including Rubio, Bush  and Walker, although all three made stronger efforts this week. Soon we will see the results of polls and have a better idea of how well received they really were. Since this was reputedly the most watched primary debate in history, lots of people saw candidates who may have had little or no prior exposure. It may take more time for the weaker polling candidates, such as Graham, Huckabee, Santorum and Pataki to either improve their results or drop out.

Summary impact

This has to be at least partially subjective, because it involves assessing impressions. Polls show that Trump and Fiorina gained most. Rubio, Walker, Jindal, Bush, Christie, Pataki  and Graham went all out to gain mindshare and respect. It looks like they succeeded roughly in the order listed here. Hard to say, since some publications and people we’ve read of feel variously that their candidate did fantastic and opponents did terrible.  It appears that Carson held his own. He has been picking up support as others flame out and their fans see a smart, reasonable, accomplished guy like him, with no government experience, but plenty of experience dealing with governments.

In any case, it is good to see these issues being discussed and ideas put forward, while the public has a chance to take the measure of the candidates over so many months to go, sometimes under pressure. We hope that the Democrats’ process will be so intense.


What happened

Without going through a blow-by-blow account of 4 /12 hrs of the two debates, here’s a summary:


Front runner Trump still won most post debate surveys, but pretty much repeated his stump speech message, without many new details on how he would do it and lots of generalities. He was attacked strongly by Fiorina, Paul and Bush- on his abusive comments about Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly, on his hard line illegal immigration law enforcement policy, on how he would accomplish it and what it would cost. Almost all other candidates favor some form of amnesty, except for Ted Cruz, but poll numbers suggest that the public is receptive to their message, especially Trump’s. His statements about how he would get foreign leaders to like him and the USA, how he would negotiate with them to see things our way, were challenged, without a coherent, specific responses from him. He did not name who these “great negotiators” he said would use to do this are, when asked. Bush reminded Trump that he had endorsed Hillary Clinton to negotiate an Iran deal.

Scott Walker expressed skepticism that a man with a history of four bankruptcies could balance the budget. To a question of whether she would trust Trump with “the nuclear button,” Fiorina gave the impression she had reservations, without saying so explicitly.


This has become a litmus test for many voters. Immigration law enforcement has been spotty over the years and is even more so under Obama, who initiated executive action to further ease law enforcement, challenged in the courts with some success already. Candidate views ranged from Trump’s full enforcement doctrine, to Cruz’s only slightly less so program, all the way to Bush’s “act of love” approach which would allow most illegal aliens now here to remain and extend a “path to Citizenship to many of the millions here, while also tightening border security. Walker tightened up his approach somewhat a while back when he began to appreciate the problem and the public’s reaction to it.

When Trump was challenged on whether the plan was practical and affordable and how would he do it, he said: build a wall- a BIG wall, get the “really bad dudes out on day 1- gangs” etc. He indicated that we don’t  have a country if we don’t have a real border. Trump told  the moderator that he wouldn’t even ask this question if Trump hadn’t brought it up in his campaign.” He later added that Citizens had to speak English. Rubio disagreed. Carson was somewhere in the middle, wanting a strong border but not anxious to throw out those who entered illegally and overstayed visas. He wants a six month grace period to pay back taxes and fees and would grant work permits- for who and criteria were not clear.

Christie was skeptical that DHS could deport 15,000 people/day for two years as Trump advocates. Christie further advocated fingerprinting anyone here on visas and following up on overstays. Rubio recommended switching to a merit system for immigration rather than preferences for relatives, as is done now.

On the matter of ending birthright Citizenship for children of illegal aliens, Trump and Cruz are for it. Trump pointed out that hardly any countries grant it and we also take in more immigrants and refugees than any other country. A few candidates didn’t answer the question clearly, such as Carson and Fiorina (we’ve been talking about immigration for 25 years.” And?). Paul pointed out that SCOTUS has never ruled on the issue and the Constitution doesn’t explicitly grant it, but it has received a questionable interpretation. One candidate pointed out that the author of the 14th Amendment said it was written to benefit former slaves. In response to the question, Carson said illegal immigrants can’t vote, don’t have full rights and privileges and that sanctuary  cities are wrong. I don’t remember that he expressed a view on birthright Citizenship, though.

While all this was going on, over 200 people were down on the main road protesting for and against immigration laws (more on this later).

Foreign policy

The candidates were nearly all for a strong foreign policy, both diplomatically and militarily, to defend freedom and our and allies’ interests abroad. Marco Rubio who is a foreign policy hawk, voiced that and has been hawkish in the past. In the earlier debate, Lindsey Graham seemed to want to make the war on terror the centerpiece of his presidency.

Rand Paul was the main voice of caution about unproductive foreign entanglements, channeling President George Washington’s farewell speech. He also said that we should use force only to defend national security. Carson was also less than enthusiastic about more wars, but acknowledged that Islamic Jihadism is something that must be reckoned with.

All candidates were unhappy with Obama/Kerry/Clinton’s pending Iran Nuclear agreement, but not all were willing to “tear it up” as President. Trump and Bush would keep it and enforce it, while Cruz would walk away from it. Kasich said anyone who would tear it up isn’t ready to be President.

All seemed to agree that Iran getting nuclear devices and means to deliver them is bad for the US, the MidEast and especially Israel. All were skeptical about the Iran nuclear agreement but not what to do about it. Cruz said the #1 test for the use of force is – the vital interests and security of the U.S. He added that he doesn’t believe Iran will comply and that the administration is downplaying the “Death to America” emanating from Iran even at the highest levels. He finished with “A vote for Hillary is a vote for the  Ayatollah.”

Trump said that a tremendous use of force would have meant no refugees. He also previously said Obama set a “red line” for Syria, Syria crossed it and Obama did nothing. Trump said he may not have set a red line in that situation.

Kasich says go with the deal, enforce it and “slap” sanctions on if they don’t comply. Cruz pointed out that the agreement doesn’t have teeth for adequate surveillance and that once the funds are released, they are gone- $100+ billion. He added that Obama violated federal law by not revealing the existence and supplying side agreements to the Iran nuclear deal.

Huckabee said the nuclear threat is about the survival of western civilization, “not just a little MidEast thing.” He said “Obama treats the agreement like the Magna Carta; Iran treats it like toilet paper.”

There wasn’t a unanimous opinion on Syria either. All agreed that both the Assad regime and ISIS are bad for Syria, but not on what to do about it, if anything. Rubio said  the attacks were “pinpricks,” and that the US military isn’t built for that. He said force shouldn’t be used unless we intend to win.


Both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have staked out  their territory as constitutionalists and to a lesser extent, Bobby Jindal, too.  Cruz and Jindal have a more Conservative interpretation  and Paul a more Libertarian one. We asked a ranking Ted Cruz staffer in the spin room which unconstitutional departments Cruz would eliminate as President and were told that they weren’t telling the public.


Believe it or not, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (DNC Chair) was here. Photo: Marc Langsam/


All candidates expressed at this session or previously that they believe Barack Obama is bad for the country. In fact, Chris Christie asked for a show of audience hands on who thought Obama was good for the nation. No hands up were visible, although we know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was on the grounds at the time (not sure if in the debate hall). However, no candidates who are legislators have made moves to censure or remove Obama, so maybe he’s not so bad.


Most candidates have come out against it- Trump would replace it with a private system, although Obamacare does work primarily through private insurance companies and providers already. Several candidates remarked that Obamacare was passed illegally and upheld unconstitutionally. Congress didn’t think it was bad enough to defund.



And Van Jones. This is CNN, after all.

Huckabee: lamented the criminalization of Christianity, using the example of the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses and said the Supreme Court made law out of thin air and redefined marriage without any constitutional support at all. He stated that there are three co-equal branches of govt., separation of powers. That this is judicial tyranny. He said that accommodations made, but weren’t, while they are made to grow beards of internees at Gitmo who killed Americans,  but not for an elected, Democrat County Clerk. Bush said  the clerk should be accommodated but can’t just say gays can’t get married. He also said accommodation should be done at the local level (not by a federal judge).

The budget

Several candidates, such as Walker said the budget must be balanced but didn’t commit to when or how. Christie, Walker, Kasich and Bush all said they had reduced or eliminated deficits, reduced taxes and improved their states’ fiscal condition. Trump disagreed with Walker when the Wisconsin Governor hit Trump on his bankruptcies, saying that he never(personally) did and that Walker was “supposed to make money … but lost billions” (in Wisconsin), disputed by Walker.


Scott Walker at Reagan Library, 9-16-15. Photo: Marc Langsam/




Fiorina is for defunding Planned Parenthood, which does about 300,000 abortions a year. She said that US action on PP and Iran help define the character of the nation. She said anyone who watched the video of the fully formed fetus on a table, with heart beating and kept alive to harvest its brain should agree with her. The candidates are especially incensed by the grisly practices and sale of baby body parts for profit allegedly revealed in recent videos. Christy believes it is systematic murder of children in the womb to maximize profitability of baby part sales. Bush, Walker and Jindal already claim to have defunded PP in their states. Walker also noted that the 60 vote “cloture” Senate procedure  “is not in the Constitution, ” meaning that PP could potentially be defunded. Kasich thinks it should be defunded, but not to risk a government shutdown over it. He opined that “the President won’t sign it anyway and it risks losing a Republican victory in 2016.  Cruz encouraged all Americans to watch the videos, that they reveal confession to multiple felonies, that the nation shouldn’t be funding them $500 million annually, that Republicans are pre-emptively surrendering on this, that Obama commits to his Liberal principles, but Republicans won’t and should start standing up. Christie said he is the first NJ pro-life governor since Roe v. Wade. Trump said “he would take care of women,” but it was clear how that applied to this.


A variety of opinions here, too. Trump believes in a graduated (progressive) income tax and that hedge funds don’t pay enough. Kasich: don’t change it. Carson flat tax (10%) like a church tithe. Paul: flat tax. Walker: lower taxes will create jobs. Huckabee: The “Fair tax.”

Tenth Amendment

We hadn’t heard this question asked at a debate before, so we listened carefully, as it helps draw clear differentiation of advocates of states and even individual rights vs the federal government.

Stated belief in 10th Amendment principles: Paul, Cruz. Not so much: Christie and Fiorina. No others spoke up. Jindal has in other situations, as has Huckabee,

Climate Change

Rubio neither agreed or disagreed but said it was neither practical nor cost effective to do anything to stop it. Christie: don’t destroy the economy over this wild left-wing idea. Walker: We can have only a marginal effect on fighting climate change.


Is the “spin” more important than the message?


In the “Spin Room” after the debate. Few candidates made themselves available on the floor. Participating: Carson, Huckabee, Kasich. Several didn’t even have spin people there. Photo:

The debate news published has been as much about spin and coverage as it is substance. It focuses on personalities, who’s doing what to whom and who scores points and is ahead. It positions Trump as the focal point and evaluates others on how well they handled him, rather than strictly on the merits of the candidates. CNN, like Fox in the previous debate, seemed intent on inciting attacks by the candidates on each other, particularly the perceived favorites.  The CNN-managed debate did manage to cover a lot more substance, partially due to the skills of moderator Jack Tapper (talk show host Hugh Hewitt and political commentator Dana Bash also asked questions), partially because candidates were allowed to interact somewhat more, partially because it ran a marathon three hours in duration and the small one another 1+ hrs.

Republican blogs are saying Trump and Fiorino won the debate- or at least that polls show they did. I watched the main debate nearly three hour marathon, took copious notes and that was not my overall impression at all. Trump followed his usual M.O.- self promotion, insults and generalities about policies and what he would do: “We’ll send them back… and let the good ones back in” – without ever saying how or what the criteria would be – and in responding to Rand Paul’s criticism on Trump’s attacks on Fiorina’s appearance: “I never attacked him on his looks…And believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter there.” Not really much substance there. Some say his routine is becoming “stale.”

Trump has led the polls by increasing margins because he rejects the establishment message, which is ironic because he is one of the ultimate establishment businessmen, although self-styled. He has also stated over and over that he cannot be bought due to his $9 billion wealth. His advocacy of enforcing immigration laws and putting Citizen interests first has attracted a large plurality of supporters, along with his hard line trade and foreign policy negotiating/action stances.

Last night, he repeated all of those messages, but did little to fill in the details, even when challenged.

Kasich seemed to express disgust with the course of the debate and personal attacks at one point and implored all to “get to the issues.”  During the first debate Pataki remarked that the first four questions were about Trump. As unfair as it is, I won’t spend much time on the debate, because it is unlikely that any of the four – Jindal, Graham, Pataki & Santorum will break out. But, I’ll have to say that any of the four could likely handle the job. Jindal seemed the most inspiring of the four.

To show you you how difficult candidate access is (unless you’re big media), here is Ben Carson, one of the few who made himself available on the “spin room” floor:

Ben Carson Reagan Library Debate Spin Room 9-16-15

Ben Carson Reagan Library Spin Room 9-16-15– 2

Ben Carson Reagan Library Spin Room 9-16-15– 3


The rise of Donald Trump

Trump learned the real estate development literally at his father’s knee. He used his successful (but nowhere near as successful as Donald) father’s resources and influence  to get started in major development projects in Manhattan. He was very bold and very successful although he has had some bad setbacks along the way (four project bankruptcies, but some were more to take advantage of laws), some strategic retreats (getting out of Atlantic City past its peak, when the getting was good). He continues to build a portfolio of landmark holdings, mostly appreciating in value and of course made over $200 million on his “Apprentice” show alone. He abandoned his beloved position there to run for President.

He now claims to be worth $9 billion and will self-fund his own campaign, which he claims will keep him free of special interest influence. Trump has supported positions on both the left and right and switched party registrations multiple times. He has often opined on political matters  and had a ready made bully-pulpit to do so, with his real estate mogul and superhit TV show star fame. While he has threatened to run for President before, he’s actually doing so now. His hard line immigration enforcement, foreign policy and trade negotiations policies have really resonated and built increasing support.


The Rise of Carly Fiorina


Carly Fiorina at Reagan Library, 9-16-15. Photo: Marc Langsam/

Fiorina, who rose from secretary to executive and CEO of multiple corporations- Lucent and Hewlett-Packard, has a controversial record. She was fired by Hewlett-Packard, ostensibly for mismanagement. However, she ran Hewlett-Packard during the worst tech crash in history, when the NASDAQ dropped 80%, multiple large competitors crashed and burned. Fiorina’s acquisition of Compaq was criticized by some as a bad move. She did massive layoffs and “offshoring” of jobs. But, when the smoke cleared, HP was slimmed down and streamlined, the largest computer manufacturer in the world with the most cash flow and strategic positioning- and it survived. Her real sin might have been a culture clash with the HO culture, which is very different from her slash and burn style. For instance, during the severe 1982 recession, pre-Carly, when competitors were firing people left and right, HP held on to their employees, absorbed the losses and mitigated them somewhat with “job sharing,” in lieu of layoffs.

After surviving a serious bout of Cancer, Fiorina ran for the US Senate in California in 2010. She ran a lackluster, unmemorable campaign, nothing like she’s doing now. She evidently has her mojo back, and is one of the best informed, most articulate, on-target candidates for any party. In spite of that, she was languishing in the polls, until she participated in the August Fox News “undercard” debate for  those who didn’t qualify for the main debate. This might have been a blessing in disguise, because she was able to shine- to dominate the debate actually and this catapulted her to greater national recognition. CNN debate invitation criteria still didn’t consider her qualified for the main debate, because the average with her previous polling was too low, but CNN made an exception and let her in to the main debate.

Last night, she performed well on the issues, seemed very much on her game and was very well-received by the  audience. None of this was any surprise to the well-informed, who have been tracking her many well-handled interviews and speeches to be proud of.

She also got a sympathy vote due to The Donald’s absurd comment about her appearance, suggesting that someone who looked like her shouldn’t be President.


Debate venue

The event was held at the Reagan Library, which has become a favorite west coast location for debates. The audience was greatly limited by the relatively small room size- probably about 400 in the main room, where Reagan’s Air Force 1 plane is on display and meals are often served at events. Even most well-connected people were unable to get seats and forget about it for the general public. The press corps might have outnumbered the audience. We were told that 800+ applied to cover the event and about 700 were selected. The media filing room had 300+ spaces. More were in the “Spin Room,” which is designed to conduct interviews, on video equipment or elsewhere in the complex.


Outside protests- of Planned Parenthood, pro and con illegal immigration.

Security wouldn’t let non-attendees anywhere near the Library, so protestors congregated, as early as 11 AM since media and some candidates trickled in all day,  on Madera Road and Presidential Drive, several hundred yards away and out of sight of the Library complex, which is reached high up on a hill, only after negotiating a long road with quite a few switchbacks.

While the library event was going on, over 200 people were down on the main road protesting for and against immigration laws and against Planned Parenthood. Busloads of Latino and union members came in to promote open borders and amnesty and attack the Republicans, while a smaller and very determined group had huge banners demanding that Congress end birthright Citizenship. Media and candidates had to run the gauntlet to get to this event.

Read Story: Protests Make Noise Below GOP Debates


Pro-illegal alien protestors at entrance to Reagan Library access road of GOP Presidential debate day. Photo: Tony Dolz.

There was a smaller number protesting Planned Parenthood  and mandated vaccines.


Our readers’ questions

Readers sent us about 40 questions to ask the candidates. I was able to meet only two candidates personally: Ben Carson who shook my hand after walking up the steps from the courtyard and said hi, before being engulfed in a crowd of hundreds; and Mike Huckabee, who exchanged brief pleasantries about our mutual friend Thousand Oaks City Councilman Rob McCoy. I also was able to ask some questions of campaign staffers for Bush, Cruz & Huckabee. The leading candidates were taken up with preset big media interviews and left in fairly short order after that. Most didn’t even station people on the floor of the spin room and mainly just focused on big media interviews.

Some of the  questions are answered by the debate videos (above), which you should watch if truly interested- It is nearly 4 1/2 hours total for the two debates. We will forward questions to campaign personnel, where we can reach them.


Here is NPR’s final tally for how much air time each main stage candidate got in the primetime debate:

Trump: 18:47

Bush: 15:48

Fiorina: 13:30

Carson: 12:56

Christie: 12:36

Rubio: 11:21

Cruz: 10:45

Paul: 10:28

Kasich: 9:44

Huckabee: 9:20

Walker: 8:29

And the 6 p.m. debate tally:

Graham: 19:47

Santorum: 15:38

Jindal: 13:06

Pataki: 10:58


George Miller is Publisher of and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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Citizen Reporter

Most comprehensive report on this debate I have seen- thanks.

William "Bill" Hicks

THIRD PARTY; or not?

Just an observation. Third Party Candidates have gotten wise to the future of running wild an free from the two party system. Every time they have splintered off, they have abominably failed to gain traction. In most cases, they have joined the system without changing their political core beliefs. I don’t see any need to call them out. It doesn’t take much imagination to list the candidates that apply in this primary election. Some may be more stealth in their attempt to hide their true stripes while others are clearly more open to who they are regardless of their adopted party affiliation; democrat or republican.