The first major GOP presidential primary debate, which took place on Thursday, offered plenty of political bluster, but some substance too. For company executives, who are wondering how a Republican president might handle the economy, the 10-man debate offered some clues. Here are seven moments from the debate that concern corporate America, and what some of the candidates had to say:
1) Donald Trump on his four bankruptcies
The Fox News moderators asked Donald Trump why the American people should trust someone who has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times, including in 2009, when Trump Entertainment went under at a steep cost to lenders.
Trump responded that he simply used U.S. bankruptcy laws in the same way numerous other companies do, and the four filings are insignificant in the context of the “hundreds of deals” he has closed. He added the recent bankruptcy took place in Atlantic City at a time when the city as a whole was collapsing, and that “these lenders are not babies, they’re total killers.”
2) Marco Rubio flubs the biggest U.S. retailers
The Florida Senator appeared more prepared on economic issues than his fellow candidates, so it’s perhaps surprising he declared Amazon.com to be the country’s biggest retailer. He missed by quite a bit since Amazon is only number nine with $34.9 billion in annual sales versus number one retailer, Wal-Mart, which sold $343.6 billion last year. To be fair to Rubio, Amazon does have the largest market cap right now, but it’s still not right to say it’s the biggest retailer.
3) The Republican “war against women” problem isn’t going away
Many GOP supporters have accused Democrats of cynically stoking a narrative about Republicans’ “war on women.” Whether the charge is fair or not, the party is going to have to address it. Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly made this clear at the start of the debate when she pressed Trump about why he said it was okay to call women “fat pigs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump pushed back (sort of) by saying he had meant the remark to be directed only at Rosie O’Donnell.
More broadly, the candidates said little about how they would overcome Hillary Clinton’s perceived advantage with women if she is nominated for the Democrats. Nor did they cite recent moves by Netflix and Microsoft to expand maternity leave. Finally, the optics of the debate were not great for the GOP: all 10 candidates were men – though, in one potential bright-spot earlier on Thursday, Carly Fiorina, put in a strong performance in a debate among second-tier Republican candidates.
4) Taxes, taxes, taxes
Several candidates, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio said they would overhaul America’s byzantine corporate tax rules, and Rubio pledged to end special deductions and lower rates to 25% in order to help small businesses. As for income tax, Mike Huckabee claimed he would eliminate the IRS and replace the lost revenue with a sales tax. Meanwhile, Ben Carson said he favored “God’s” model of taxing, also known as tithing – in other words, Carson wants a flat tax.
5) Entitlement reform
Chris Christie, who did not fare well overall, had a strong moment when he claimed that 71 percent of U.S. spending is tied up in debt service and entitlement programs like Social Security. He pointed out that these programs are under-funded, and called for measures to fix them such as raising the retirement age.
6) Heath care: 2 candidates said something interesting
Surprise, Republicans don’t like ObamaCare! At the debate, however, the candidates did little more than vow over and over to repeal it. One exception was Trump, who said he preferred a system “without artificial lines around each state” – a national one, in other words. The other was Ohio governor John Kasich, who defended his state’s expansion of Medicaid, by saying it came as part of a larger policy to treat drug addicts and the mentally ill outside of prison; he suggested the increased health costs are more than offset by a decline in incarceration costs.
In one of his stronger debate moments, Marco Rubio argued for a more rational immigration system, including one that provides a path to citizenship, and processes legitimate applications faster. Jeb Bush made a similar case. Donald Trump, meanwhile, called for a giant wall from coast to coast, but qualified that by saying he would add a “big, beautiful door” in the middle.