Ethics Observations On The Republican Presidential Candidates Debates

GOP debate

[I have another three hour legal ethics seminar (fifth seminar in six days, in four cities) to handle this morning, then I drive to Boston and fly to D.C. Getting up all the posts on the runway will be a challenge: wish me luck. I began the day at Ethics Alarms getting this nice message from a new commenter, a Mr. S M Tenneshaw, who wrote, “You’re not a joke, you’re a worthless piece of shit” in response to this controversial post from 2013. Ah, how exhilarating for that sentiment to be the day’s first contact with human life!]

Here are my comments on the marathon debate last night:

  • Jake Tapper did an extraordinary job at  being a fair, organized, efficient and firm moderator. I was in awe. I was less impressed with his  late innings resort to questions reminiscent of Barbara Walters’ infamous question to Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ [ NOTE: In the original post,, I incorrectly attributed this to Barbara’s Jimmy Carter interview, which was also cloying. Always got those two mixed up…] Later, after the debate, Tapper complained that there were some important questions he didn’t get to ask. If that’s true, Jake, why ask such silly ones as “What woman would you place on the ten dollar bill?,” and “What would your code name be as POTUS?” Some of the answers were inexplicable  (I had to have someone explain to me why Carly Fiorina said “Secretariat” as her code name. She was referencing her humble beginnings, not the Triple Crown winner…), some were alarming (Chris Christie wants to put the ADDAMS FAMILY on a bill? Oh, right, Abigail. ONE ‘D’. Good answer.) and some were pathetic pandering (Dr. Carson: “One Nation”? As the code name for the President? Uh, Ben, what are you doing?)

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

Obviously nobody with any historical knowledge, theatrical sense and rhetorical skill coached Paul, who is apparently too arrogant to watch YouTube. First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that.

  • Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!” got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

  • Donald Trump also lied, and I thought evidently so, in his back and forth with Jeb Bush over Trump’s efforts to get Florida to add casino gambling. Jeb explained that Trump gave a large donation to persuade him to support the expansion of gambling, and Trump denied it. I didn’t know the facts, but I thought Bush was convincing: sure enough, the facts backed him up. One of Trump’s claims is that he never lies. He lies frequently, and this was a blazing example. He should be confronted with it.
  • Trump took another hit when Carly Fiorina’s almost certainly pre-scripted response about Trump’s insult to her appearance got the biggest applause of the night. Trump folded like an accordion, and his response that Fiorina has “got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” was lame, weak, insincere, an obvious surrender, and fell flat with the crowd.
  • To get all of the Trump points out of the way, he also revealed himself to be an anti-vaxxer, telling a Jenny McCarthy-esque tale of how a baby he knew about got vaccinations and turned autistic. So Trump is a birther* and an anti-vaccination nut. Stand proud, Trump supporters.
  • Ben Carson is wasting everyone’s time. He has no feel for debate, he is uninformed, he refuses to engage, and seems to think he can earn the Presidency solely by being a black Republican who isn’t Barack Obama. Carson has even less experience than Obama when he ran, but without the President’s speaking skills. His explanation for why he wouldn’t have retaliated against Afghanistan following the terror attacks was deluded and Rand Paulish, disqualifying him as a serious candidate. Those who support him in the polls might as well be stumping for a hand puppet, a pocket comb or a bag of jellybeans. They should be ashamed of themselves.
  • I’ve made my case about Sen. Paul’s dangerous ideology before, so I won’t belabor it. Like his father, he sees nothing wrong with doubling or tripling the number of Americans, an already unmanageable number, who wreck their lives, families and the businesses that depend on them with self-incapacitating recreational drugs. Also like his dad, he believes that the only nation on earth that has, can and must project its power to keep evil in the world at bay should eschew foreign conflicts.
  • Mike Huckabee also reiterated his ignorant and dangerous view that citizens should be able to ignore any law their particular religious beliefs oppose. He seems to be under the impression that the only religion is Christianity, whereby the governor can say with the stunning certitude of the enlightened, that only “wrong” Supreme Court rulings don’t matter. Somebody please point out to him that his formula would allow new and creative religions to defy almost any law under the sun?
  • Back to Rand Paul: he made the classic rationalization of drug legalization advocates by terming it “hypocrisy” for someone who used pot as a teen to oppose legalization now. Either Paul doesn’t understand the meaning of hypocrisy, which is not retroactive, or he’s using a dishonest rationalization. So, Senator, is it hypocritical for an elected official who drove intoxicated as a 20-year-old to support DUI laws in his fifties, or to tell his son its the wrong thing to do? Paul is the most dangerous kind of fool: one who thinks he’s wise.
  • Jeb Bush had a nice ethical moment following Paul’s fatuous “I don’t know what hypocrisy is, but I’m accusing you of it” moment, quickly volunteering the information that he was the “person on this stage” Paul had referred to as a hypocritical youthful pot user. I doubt he was the only one: Bush might not have even been the one Paul was alluding to!
  • I would love to see someone ask Trump about his position on abortion—strong and ethical declaration by Fiorina on the topic of the Planned Parenthood videos, by the way—and then ask how many abortions he has personally paid for. I bet it’s dozens.
  • The online polls about who “won” the debate may be the best example of confirmation bias I’ve ever seen. A vast majority of those who answered the Drudge poll, for example, said Trump “won,”  with Carson finishing second. There is no objective, rational reason either could be said to have won. Trump was mostly a non-factor, and Carson was an embarrassment. These people should just click a box that  says they don’t want a real President any more. That’s essentially what such a reaction means.

*This is a correction from the original post, which read “truther.” All idiot conspiracy theories look the same to me. Ethics Alarms regrets the error.

50 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Republican Presidential Candidates Debates

  1. This set of candidates isn’t any different than any other set of candidates, except perhaps in the matter of degree. If you compare campaign activities of high level national candidates with those for local city or county offices there is a marked difference.

    A better discussion might be what ethical principles apply to political campaigns as we know them, if any.

    The most ethical candidate imaginable is not effective unless they are elected to an office where they can have an impact.

    • “If you compare campaign activities of high level national candidates with those for local city or county offices there is a marked difference.”

      I would think so…

      “A better discussion might be what ethical principles apply to political campaigns as we know them, if any.”

      1) Be honest.
      2) Be civil.
      3) Don’t improperly use funds.
      …I think general ethical principles apply.

      • That would be the ideal, yes, but many candidates and their advisers apparently think that won’t get you past the primary in a national election.

          • I don’t think it is a matter of coming up with a new set of less stringent ethics, the ethics of politics already exist and have existed for a long time. It’s the comparison between the ethics of politics and the ethics of, say, interaction between a husband and wife for example, that is troublesome.

              • OK, lets say that hypothetically you are friends with a candidate in a primary campaign with opposition and also with a campaign adviser. If the candidate is worthy and they don’t get through the primary then what is the point. If you are asked whether the candidate should make this statement or that statement, a response based on an inappropriate ethical principal would seemingly be useless. We’re not talking about a candidate for judicial office here, but even those seem to be polluted by rough-and-tumble politics at times. Remember, a candidate has two campaigns to run – first for the primary and then for the general election. The kinds of things that may be necessary to survive a primary may not necessarily be prudent in a general election.

                  • Appreciate your trying though.

                    Does it make sense to evaluate a non-ethical action based on an ethic? As I understand it, ethical or unethical would imply that there is an applicable ethic. Non-ethical implies that the ethical standard in mind is not applicable.

                    If a candidate insists on maintaining a personal sense of integrity, how can they campaign in a way that is ethical and effective, and remain the sort of person the figurative we would want to have in office.

                    The answer seems to be that a different ethical standard has to be applied to the set of actions required for a campaign.

                    • If it’s wrong in the primary, it’s wrong in the general…

                      If it’s going to be wrong in the general, it is wrong in the primary…

                      We don’t base ethics on “it worked”.

                    • I think what you are really aiming at is “what level of unethical are we willing to forgive, ignore, or rationalize away”…which is dangerous territory to enter.

                    • Jack might not agree that ethics do come in absolutes. There is not one set of ethics for primary elections, one set for general elections, one for doctors, lawyers, husbands, wives, etc. ad infinitum. There may be (and are)additions for every specific profession, lIke politicians (but also note that there is a vast difference between a politician and a statesman), doctors, etc. However, there is also a basic set of ethics that each of us, as human beings, need to adhere to. The ethics of a politician are IN ADDITION TO the ethics of humanity, as are the ethics of lawyers, doctors and psychologists. The fact that these ethics may or may not ease an election in either a primary or general election is irrelevant. Do not confuse ethics with rules, regulations and laws.

                    • There’s something unpalatable about this:

                      If it’s wrong in the primary, it’s wrong in the general…

                      If it’s going to be wrong in the general, it is wrong in the primary…

                      We don’t base ethics on “it worked”.

    • I don’t know what you think that first sentence means, Scott. I think it’s just cynicism, and rationalization 1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.” with a touch of 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?”

      Is every group of 11 people the same? This was the same as the Democratic field in 1976? That’s ridiculous. Are the group dynamics of every 11 people the same? This is just the ethics shrug: nothing changes, its always this way, a pox on them all, why bother?

      I reject it. I think it’s a lazy attitude.

  2. Trump got taken down again and again (even by “low energy” Jeb Bush). Christy’s comment about Fiorina and Trump arguing about who did the worst job as CEO with “let’s get back to the issues” was nicely put. Made me sorta like the guy. As far as Ben Carson, what a disappointment! Boring and not really addressing the issues.

  3. Jack,
    In fairness to the great Baba Wawa (oh wait, whoops), in the interview with Katherine Hepburn (not Jimmy Carter, though she may have asked him something equally moronic) to which you referred, the actress stated something along the lines of wishing she were a tree, to which Barbara responded “What kind of tree?” Still not a stellar question, but idiotic statements don’t exactly inspire thoughtful inquiries.

    As far as the article, I had never read the (unrelated) one from 2013 and very much loved it. As far as this one, however … it was also enjoyed.

    I hope this finds you well and in (comparatively) good spirits.


  4. Fiorina’s response was probably not pre-scripted since it incorporated Trump’s criticism of Bush’s comment about Women’s health. Or if it was pre-scripted, she did a nice job of spontaneously incorporating Trump’s comment.

    • That was going to be my point. She probably had a scripted response, but, considering that she pulled in the Bush comment, she either ditched it, or incorporated the Bush stuff to make it look extemporaneous.
      I thought that was one of the best moments of the night, because, talking points or not, she was thinking on her feet.

  5. I disagree with some of your observations, but I’ll only address one — I thought CNN did a HORRIBLE job. Indeed, I thought the Fox News crowd asked far better questions. The vast majority of the questions last night were Trump-centric and aimed to try to pick fights and boost ratings.

    I am still liking Kasich the most in this field. I know he won’t win, but I think he would be the best choice. Every time Cruz spoke, I wanted to smack him. I don’t agree with Fiorina’s policy positions, but she definitely debates well. She also was very smart in her choice of dress — I thought she really stood out in an elegant way.

  6. “Ben Carson is wasting everyone’s time. he seems to think he can earn the Presidency solely by being a black Republican who isn’t Barack Obama.”
    -Good Lord Jack,
    I have seen you call people racist on this blog for stating far more factual positions than this ‘thought.’ You exhibit many signs of classic liberalism, including name calling and knowing what is in another man’s heart.

    • First comment I have read to day, and for the second day in a row, #1 has seriously annoyed me. I banned the last one. Since you have been here for a while, I’ll give you 24 hours to back up that cheap shot or retract it.

      1) You must explain what is racist about saying that a black neurosurgeon with neither the experience, expertise or skills to be President has anything other than his color to recommend him for the office. This, in fact, res ipsa loquitur, everyone knows it, and Carson knows it. He is famous for one reason: he criticized Barack Obama at a prayer breakfast, and is black. If being a critic of Obama is immediate reason to run for the GOP nomination, then we would have had several million people on that stage on Wednesday.

      2) You must explain what else, other than his color, distinguishes Carson for this task. He can’t even answer that question: when asked why he should be President in the firts debate, he answered that he was the only man on the stge who has delivered “Siamese Twins.” HAHAHAHAHA! No, really, Ben. Ben??? Ben???????

      3) You must show why it isn’t obvious that Carson either thinks exactly as I have said, or he’s a fool. I don’t think he’s a fool. But since 2013, he has shown complete ignorance on multiple topics, barely educated himself on many issues, and not recieved any training—I could give it to him in about two hours–on how to speak publicly when the venue is NOT a prayer breakfast. Nor he is he willing to actively compete—he wants to be nice. As a doctor, he had an obligation (as did Rand Paul) to destroy Trump’s moronic anti-Vaxx nonsense, and he gave a vague, meandering equivocal hum instead. He is not the first token black candidate in a GOP presidential race—if he doesn’t know that this is what he is, he really has problems. What else does he offer? (Being an “outsider” doesn’t count—there are millions of those, too). Carson has acted and spoken as if he expects to win by just showing up black. As Obama has proved tragically and decisively, being black is not sufficient qualification for the white house.

      4. You have to find a statement by a progressive/liberal that I have criticized as “racist” that was not, as my statement was not, in fact racist. I doubt you can, because I know what racisy means, and you evidently do not. Referring to someone’s race is not racist. Saying that someone is trying to take advantage of their skin color is not racist. Racism is, and can only be, a statement or attitude evincing or communicating a dislike, contempt for or low opinion of a black individual or the blacks generally based on race and only race.

      And you have to have initial caps. I warned you about this, and let it slide. No longer. That idiotic comment just blew up what little good will you had built up here.

      24 hours, 9 AM tomorrow. After that, your comments will be spammed.

      Here’s a tip: Retract and apologize. Using an upper case R.

      • ANNOUNCEMENT: nne1dlh, or “neenee,” as we call him around the office, is hereby banned from commenting here.

        Yesterday he accused me of a racist comment without any supporting argument. I gave him 24 hours, at 9AM, to back up his insult or retract it. He did neither and time is up. Neenee was on probation anyway, having previously been told to start using initial caps like a literate person, and he adamantly refused to do so, I call the shots here. His last comment was around 7 this morning—no others will last past my fi9rst viewing of them.

        And again: Ben Carson is relying purely on his race and not being a Democrat to justify running for President. That’s irresponsible, and it isn’t racist to say so.

    • Classical liberalism entails name calling?

      I do seem to recall George Washington calling John Adams a” pantywaisted lily-twit”, to which he responded “yo mama’s so fat, you could build Mount Vernon on her!”

      No but really… What?

  7. I’d put money on a bet that Trump publishes within days another bold, clear policy statement filled with just what Republicans want to hear in order to shore up the holes in his candidacy made manifest during the debate.

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