Early in the fourth Republican debate, Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, one of the debate moderators, asked Carly Fiorina a question that cut at the heart of the rationale of every candidate onstage. Under Barack Obama, Baker noted, the United States has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under Bill Clinton, it added an average of 240,000, and under George W. Bush, just 13,000 jobs a month. Economic growth is the ultimate basis for the entire Republican economic program — the inducement they can offer to explain why Americans should give up things like cleaner air, a higher minimum wage, and more generous social programs.Republicans are winning elections these days based on a sense that something is wrong with Obama's America, a feeling widely shared especially among the older white voters who are their mainstay. I want to start by acknowledging that this sense of disorder and decline is a real problem, and that Democrats don't have any magic formula for easing it. But when you ask what Republicans are offering as an alternative -- in terms of actual government policies -- you get a short menu of tax cuts, the repeal of banking regulations, and a more aggressive foreign policy. I think these measures are all completely beside the point. Some Republican voters claim to be worried about the deficit and government debt, but analysts find that the plans of all the Republican candidates would explode the debt. There is no evidence that cutting taxes would help the economy at all -- the relationship between tax rates and growth since World War II has been random -- but it would almost certainly add to the growing inequality that worries many people in both parties. Getting more deeply involved in Middle Eastern wars would add hundreds of billions more to the debt. The disconnect here is deep.
Fiorina’s reply had no point of contact with the question whatsoever. Indeed, she said, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats” — the exact opposite of what the question had stated — before launching into a generic denunciation of the evils of big government. The basic case for changing parties turned out to pose an obstacle that all the candidates had difficulty surmounting. . . .
Likewise, Jeb Bush answered a question about how he would bring about his absurd target of 4 percent annual economic growth, and — after reiterating that 4 percent growth would be really great — promised to “repeal every rule” Obama has imposed on the economy. But if that would work, why didn’t we have 4 percent growth under the previous administration?
And when a moderator pointed out to Rand Paul that energy production has boomed under the current administration and asked for his policy response, Paul replied that he would repeal the regulations that have hampered energy production.
All the candidates prefer to live in a world in which big government is crushing the American dream, and all of them lack even moderately credible specifics with which to flesh out this harrowing portrait.
Many Americans, including some immigrants, think there are too many immigrants in America, and some of the Republicans are offering strong action here. I think, though, that really keeping out illegal immigrants could only be done using the sorts of measures (biometric national ID cards, for example) that would be wildly unpopular with the Republican base, and that expelling the ones we already have would be an act of cruelty on a Bolshevik scale. I doubt we have the stomach.
So I just don't see what Republicans are really offering beyond a change in the national tone.