There's nothing like three hours of watching 17 Republican presidential candidates grilled by Fox News journalists to remind me why I am a political independent.
Much of the time was devoted to two topics I am just not that interested in: how to keep more immigrants out of America and how to defund Planned Parenthood.
On immigration, if prior generations of American politicians had actually implemented the policies these Republicans are advocating, maybe they could have kept Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and maybe John Kasich off the debate stage altogether. Heck, perhaps even the Bush ancestors could have been stopped on their way over on the Mayflower for fear that the influx of the foreigners might have depressed the wages of the existing low-skill American workers. Then the entire presidential debate could have been limited to Native Americans: Ben Nighthorse Campbell versus Elizabeth "Fauxcahontas" Warren.
Senator Santorum promised to reduce the level of legal immigration by 25%, praising a system that forced his father to wait in Mussolini's Italy for 7 years before joining his own father in America. (The fact that if Mr. Santorum's father had been Jewish he might not have made it to America at all seemed not worth considering by the former senator from Pennsylvania.) Mr. Santorum accused business of favoring immigration because it wants profits (the former senator seems to prefer an immigration policy that would result in less profitable American businesses, which makes one wonder if his tax, trade, and regulatory policies are designed for similar goals.) Bobby Jindal declared that "immigration without assimilation is invasion." Does he plan to ban Cajun cooking from Louisiana?
On abortion, the candidates tried to outdo each other with their zeal in opposing the procedure. Marco Rubio, accused of softness for supposedly favoring an exception allowing it in the case of rape or incest, proclaimed that future generations would "call us barbarians" for "murdering millions of babies." Scott Walker defended making abortion illegal even in cases where the life of the mother was in danger. Mike Huckabee claimed that the Fifth and 14th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection under the law apply to unborn children. Ted Cruz promised that on day one of his presidency he'd instruct the Department of Justice to launch a criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood.
It's not that I am in favor of abortion or unconcerned about the rule-of-law effects of a broken immigration system. And it's certainly possible, likely, even, depending on the nominee, that that I'll vote Republican in November. But these issues, which Fox News deemed important enough to the Republican primary electorate to allow them to pretty much dominate the debate, just aren't high priority for me; if anything, on immigration, I want to let more people in, not keep more people out.
That's not to say that there weren't moments of illumination and even some encouraging signs in the debate. It was interesting to hear that Governor Pataki's two sons had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I had not known. With the exception of Rand Paul, all of the candidates seem to favor a more aggressive stance against radical Islamic terrorism; as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, "If we don't stop them over there, they are coming here." The governor of Ohio, John Kasich, gave what I thought was a strong answer to a trap question on gay marriage.
Donald Trump offered a look at his relationship as a campaign donor to Hillary Clinton, saying it had been essentially transactional. "I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding," Mr. Trump explained. He also made the case for his candidacy as a kind of workout expert who can play hardball in negotiation with creditors. "This country owes $19 billion and needs somebody like me to straighten out this mess," he said. He declined to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee or to foreclose the possibility of an independent run.
Several candidates spoke of the need for unity. "I want to win," said Jeb Bush, who underperformed overall in comparison to his status as a candidate doing well in polls and fundraising. (A fundraising email from Mr. Bush after the debate conceded as much, saying "Look, I'm not running to be your talker-in-chief. I'm running to be commander-in-chief.") "We're not going to win by dividing the country," Mr. Bush said. (He has a habit of arguing against things on the grounds that they are losing politics, rather than on the substantive merits.)
Governor Kasich said in response to the gay marriage question, "issues like that are planted to divide us." "We've got to unite our country again," Mr. Kasich said later.
Ben Carson, who, like Governor Kasich, outperformed his poll numbers and expectations, also spoke of unity.
Pretty much the only discussion of monetary policy came in the "buy gold" paid commercials on Fox News. The National Rifle Association paid for a commercial attacking Michael Bloomberg that was pretty humorous. Rand Paul and Chris Christie got into a heated exchange over federal counterterrorism collection of phone data, with Mr. Paul accusing Mr. Christie of hugging President Obama and Mr. Christie talking about his hugs with the families of September 11 victims. The candidates who came from more humble backgrounds made sure to talk about it; Governor Christie's dad worked in a Breyer's ice cream plant and his mom was a secretary; Carly Fiorina started out as a secretary; Governor Kasich's father was a letter carrier, Marco Rubio's father was a bartender.
No one lost or won the nomination or the presidency in these debates. There will be plenty more to come. I hope they focus less on abortion and immigration control and more on opportunity, growth, and freedom.