The Corner

Some Takeaways from Last Night’s Debate

I am used to elections where my views aren’t represented, but last night’s debate takes the cake. Yes, overall Hillary Clinton did a better job than Trump in reaffirming her belief that the government, free goodies, more spending, higher taxes and more regulations are the solutions to everything. But let’s face it, Donald Trump did well at reaffirming that he doesn’t care much about policy and that you can never quite know what’s going to come out of his mouth next. (“She found ISIS her entire adult life.”)

I thought Trump started off well in putting her on the defensive about the Obama recovery, but he quickly went down a rabbit whole to defend himself from her attacks on his business and to explain away some of his weird beliefs. For instance, when Clinton talked about how racial healing can begin with gun control, Trump could have responded by saying that he was glad to see that she agrees that racial healing didn’t happen during the last eight years. Never mind that he could have said the president can’t stop gun violence. He could have definitely said that a Clinton term would be a third Obama term and that there is a reason why over 65 percent of people think the country is on the wrong track. 

Trump also failed to make the case of his business tax plan, by far his best policy idea. When he was asked what he would do to bring jobs to the U.S., his answer was lame as he reverted to his usual rant about trade instead of making a strong case for his business plan and the need to reform. He could explain that what Democrats don’t tell us is how much of the corporate income tax is shouldered by workers, in the form of lower wages too. But maybe he doesn’t know that. Who knows.

To be sure, Clinton was lucky to never have to answer any hard questions about the Clinton Foundation, cronyism, the war on drugs, the failed stimulus, her support of the war in Iraq, Benghazi, or her disastrous Libya war. She was lucky not to get challenged on her comment that the financial crisis was caused by tax cuts. But Trump is lucky too in that he was never challenged about his support for big government on the spending side — ironically, Clinton and most of the media are too invested in painting him and a small government guy.

I think, in the end, what is so depressing is how substance free this debate was. No mention of Obamacare, no mention of reforming entitlements, no mention of cutting government spending, or no mention of how Clinton’s minimum wage and paid family leaves would make the labor market even more rigid than it already is. The truth unfortunately is that neither candidates want to reform entitlements. Even though Trump talked about our huge debt, he won’t touch the driver of our future debt, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare subsidies. Both of them have talked about raising the minimum wage, and we know that neither of them have a good solution for Obamacare. And both of them are awful on trade. 

Overall, this election continues to be substance free. It continues to be a choice between two very unpopular candidates. It continues to be a choice between big and bigger government. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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