By Steve Musal
MILWAUKEE — “Four low-polling Republicans walk into a Wisconsin theater” might sound like the start of a joke, but the participants in the Fox Business GOP undercard debate Tuesday evening demanded to be taken seriously.
The debate featured New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
All scored at least 1 percent in four recent polls by Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily and Quinnipiac, but scored under the 2.5 percent minimum for the Prime Time debate that followed. Christie was bumped down to the “undercard” debate with the lowest-polling challengers.
Notable by his absence was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who scored less than 1 percent in the polls and missed the cut-off for the undercard. The moderators were Trish Regan and Sandra Smith, from the Fox Business Network, and Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal.
Though debate moderators continued to contrast their “substantive” questions with the previous, much-maligned CNBC debate late last month, the only reference from candidates came when all four refused to answer a question on what Democrat they most respected — although Santorum did ultimately want listeners to know he respected his opposition for fighting for their beliefs.
‘Hillary Clinton’s coming for your wallet, everybody — don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal; worry about her.’
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
The first half of the debate focused mainly on the candidates tax plans — all of which included reducing or abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and cutting social support programs.
“Are we willing to cut the government economy so we can grow the American economy?” asked Jindal, who painted a harsh picture of the country’s possible future path under Hillary Clinton. “We are on the path to socialism right now! The hour is late, but it is not too late for America.”
Though Jindal had harsh words for Santorum and perennial GOP also-ran Huckabee on their economic records, and those three candidates spent most of the debate sniping at each other, Christie tried repeatedly to drag to the focus back to the ongoing fight against Clinton.
“She is the real adversary tonight, and we better stay focused, as Republicans, on her,” Christie said. “Hillary Clinton’s coming for your wallet, everybody — don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal; worry about her.”
Christie’s call to lower taxes sounded more in line with moderates than the Republican base, even echoing Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders on his dissatisfaction with the current tax code.
“A lot of people feel like the tax code is rigged for the rich,” Christie said. “You know why they feel that way? Because it is.”
‘Are we willing to cut the government economy so we can grow the American economy?’
— Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
The difference between Christie and the rest of the candidates seemed best summed up by Jindal, who said he doesn’t want just any Republican in the White House, he wants a real conservative.