It's hard to know exactly whose responsibility it is — CNN or the candidates themselves — but listening to the Republican presidential candidates last night for five hours, one might come away thinking that the biggest problem facing America today is that too many people want to come here. The number two threat is an organization called Planned Parenthood. And the number three threat, according to Donald Trump, is that vaccines cause autism. (On the autism issue, on which, in my view, neither doctors Ben Carson or Rand Paul adequately rebutted Mr. Trump, please see the official response from the advocacy group Autism Speaks.)
The net result was something of a muddled message. The Republicans, it seems, are in favor of American population growth when it comes via forcing mothers to bear children that they do not want. But they are against it when it comes to allowing in migrants who desperately do want to be here. It's not a clear pro-population-growth message or a clear anti-population growth message; instead the message is that population growth is good when it comes via pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, and bad when it comes via immigration, especially when the immigration comes in the form of relatives of those already here rather than based on "merit," whatever that means.
Maybe the problem is that these debates are aimed at the Republican primary electorate rather than at independents such as myself. On the other hand, if the candidates spoke more about the issues other than preventing immigration and defunding Planned Parenthood, maybe more independents such as myself would choose to become part of the Republican primary electorate.
I don't want to be overly negative here; I was really hoping to find at least one of these many candidates who would be inspiring. Lindsey Graham at least was likable, and Marco Rubio was moving in talking about his Spanish-speaking grandfather's appreciation of free enterprise and limited government. Many of the candidates, and Senator Graham in particular, articulated the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism. On the other hand, remember that if any of these candidates are elected, we'd be watching them not only for five hours, but for four, or possibly eight, years. How many of these candidates would meet that test?
Part of the issue may be that the skills to do well in a televised debate are not exactly the same skills needed to be an excellent president. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were fine governors, but they aren't as good at talking on television as Marco Rubio or even Carly Fiorina. The skill sets aren't entirely different; Reagan was governor of California but also "the great communicator." Communication skills help to win popular support for a legislative program. And poor communication skills are sometimes a sign of unclear thinking. The ideal would be a candidate that has top-notch television communication skills and also an impressive track record of executive or even legislative accomplishment. The candidates on stage last night seemed to be one or the other but not both.