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Mutually Assured Obstruction: McConnell’s SCOTUS Gambit Leaves Dems No Choice but To Go Nuclear

Nuclear option

Thanks to the obstructionist tactics of the GOP majority, 210 years of US Senate tradition are about to go “BOOM!”

Not only are Republicans refusing to consider any Obama appointment to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has even refused to commit to confirming a nominee put forth by the next president — you know, should that president be a Democrat. And for all the chatter about what this means for the future of the United States Supreme Court, I’d like to take a moment to consider what this means for the future of the US Senate.

Um… BOOM!!!

If a Republican Senate majority sets a precedent by denying a Democratic president his constitutional authority to appoint a SCOTUS justice, then given a similar opportunity, a Democratic Senate majority must return the favor in kind. The failure to retaliate would only incentivize the Republicans to do this again and again, leaving them exclusive control over the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. So Democrats must vow to reject the nominees of all future Republican presidents.

And I don’t just mean during an election year — I mean ever.

Republicans must be made to understand that if they deny this president his right to appoint a justice to this particular Supreme Court seat, the Republicans will assure that no president with an opposition Senate will ever be able to appoint a justice again.

Sounds pretty dysfunctional, right? So given the current rules (whereby a single spiteful member can pretty much block any bill or motion from coming to a vote), how could such a pathologically partisan Senate ever hope to function again? Of course, it can’t. That’s why, should the Democrats regain control of the Senate this November, the first thing the new majority must do is eliminate the body’s longstanding super-majority rules. In other words, Democrats must choose the “nuclear option” and kill the filibuster.

And should the Republicans retain their majority in the face of a justifiably angry and indignant Democratic opposition, McConnell would have to be an idiot not to do the same.

Assuming the Republicans carry through on their pledge to block any Obama nomination, the filibuster is as good as dead.

Here’s Every Mention of the Economy in Last Night’s Republican Debate (It’s a Short List)

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This morning, you could find any number of think-pieces about the Republican presidential debate online. As expected, most of the pieces are about Donald Trump. But I have to say, I’ve also encountered a disturbing trend in today’s recaps; they suggest that without Trump, last night’s debate was all about “issues.” This isn’t really true. Instead, what we got was a lot of meta-talk about issues—who hates immigrants more, who has hated immigrants for the longest, who’s going to launch the most brutal assault on ISIS—and more Trump-like bluster. I suppose after so many months of Donald Trump overload, the media assigned to cover the Republican side of the presidential primary can’t quite remember what an actual policy discussion sounds like.

Here’s what we didn’t hear last night: any talk about the middle class. Or raising the minimum wage. Neither of those phrases was mentioned even once. Gun responsibility was mentioned by a moderator and then promptly ignored by Marco Rubio. In fact, the economy was largely ignored. Here, I made a list of all the times the candidates mentioned the American economy, in chronological order:

  • Ted Cruz, incredibly, suggested that tax cuts and deregulation could help stop ISIS.
  • Marco Rubio warned that switching to clean energy would “destroy our economy.” It’s a patently absurd suggestion that indicates Rubio does not have even a basic understanding of how the economy works. Clean energy is getting cheaper, clean energy jobs are on the rise, and when you support industries like gas and coal through subsidies, all you’re really doing is socializing the high costs of environmental impact. You’re putting taxpayers on the hook for trillions of dollars of damage and letting Big Oil off free.
  • John Kasich said that “the conservative message is economic growth and along with economic growth goes opportunity for everybody in America.” The first part is kind of true; Republicans talk more (and speak more forcefully) about growth. But the fact is that Democratic presidents are better for the economy, and the trickle-down agenda that Republicans have been pushing for years has led to increased inequality. The American people are realizing, finally, that trickle down economics is a scam; you can talk all you want about growth, but if you support policies that give more money to the rich, you’re not seriously endorsing growth.
  • Ted Cruz promised that his flat tax would “reduce enormous economic growth,” which is absolutely untrue. The flat tax is a regressive tax that—all together now—would lower taxes for the rich and increase taxes on the poor.
  • Seems a little…flimsy for a two-hour debate, doesn’t it? Aside from Ted Cruz’s decidedly unserious flat tax, where are the policies? Is it even possible for these candidates to mention the economy without trying to frighten Americans into thinking everything is going to collapse if they get the chance to enjoy even a little bit more economic opportunity than they enjoy right now? Even without Donald Trump in the room, the Republican debate was still a circus: all flash and dazzle and audience manipulation, with entirely too many clowns.

    It’s Been a Good Week for Syrian Refugee Inclusion

    Having just written a Facebook comment, President Obama ponders leaving the first presidential "Like." [Official White House photo by Pete Souza]

    Having just written a Facebook comment, President Obama ponders leaving the first presidential “Like.” [Official White House photo by Pete Souza]

    Yesterday, our founder Nick Hanauer published an editorial in the Seattle Times advocating for the inclusion of Muslim immigrants in general, and Syrian refugees in particular. Turns out, yesterday was a very good day for the cause of accepting Syrian refugees in America. President Obama left a comment on a Humans of New York Facebook post* profiling an unnamed Syrian refugee, currently living in Turkey, who is about to relocate to Michigan. Here’s what the Commenter-in-Chief said:

    As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you’ve endured. You and your family are an inspiration. I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve. Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we’re proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.

    From all appearances, Obama is right: the man is an inventor, and one of his inventions is “being used right now on the Istanbul metro to generate electricity from the movement of the train.” He also says he has sketches of “a plane that can fly for 48 hours without fuel.” Of his new home, the man says “I just hope that it’s safe and that it’s a place where they respect science. I just want to get back to work.”

    Today is another great day for Syrian refugees in America. Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress writes:

    Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed a lawsuit seeking to halt “any and all activities of the [United States] regarding placement of Syrian refugees in Texas,” at least until the Obama administration complies with a list of demands made by the state. Among other things, they sought a temporary order suspending Syrian refugee resettlement until Judge David Godbey, a George W. Bush appointee, had more time to consider the case. On Wednesday, Godbey ruled on this request for temporary relief. It did not go so well for Paxton.

    In other words, Texas doesn’t get to halt the inclusion of Syrian refugees. As Hanauer argued, this is a good thing for America on many different levels: policy, moral, and economic. We need as many different perspectives and experiences as possible in America, for all those reasons. It’s the key to our strength as a people and our growth as an economic power. It is, as Obama says, what makes us a great nation.

    Of course, this isn’t a done deal; yesterday, no less a sleazeball opportunist than Senator Ted Cruz unveiled a plan to ban Syrian refugees from the US. But at the moment, the pro-refugee side has the inertia, and that’s very good news in a month that’s seemingly filled from top to bottom with very bad news.

    * This is one of those sentences that would have made absolutely no sense 12 years ago. I just like to recognize those moments as they happen.

    This Is the Dumbest Thing Rand Paul Has Ever Said

    Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you a man with no core, a candidate with no platform, and a loser with no recourse.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you a man with no core, a candidate with no platform, and a loser with no recourse.

    We here at Civic Ventures have been kind of quiet about Donald Trump lately. That’s because the internet is overflowing with opinions about Donald Trump, most of them entirely unnecessary. There’s no point in adding any more noise to that cacophony. And reasonable people understand that what Trump is pushing is outright bigotry. Reasonable people also understand that giving Trump a whole lot of airtime in exchange for his statements is only making matters worse. And reasonable people understand that when Donald Trump says something outrageous, he’s normalizing it for a large segment of Americans. But presidential politics, right now, two months from the start of voting, is not about reasonable people. It’s about attention, and clicks, and eyeballs.

    But there’s a little sideshow to this particular circus that I wanted to focus on for a moment. Remember Senator Rand Paul? The fellow that TIME called “The Most Interesting Man in Politics?” Yeah, his campaign never really took off. It launched with some support left over from Ron Paul’s two viral presidential campaigns, but those people started sloughing off the minute the younger Paul started talking about, well, much of anything. It’s been a downhill slide in the polls ever since. We’ve documented his decline on this blog, but then, like pretty much everyone else on earth, we forgot about him.

    Luckily, New Hampshire radio station WGIR remembered that Paul existed. They asked him what he thought about Donald Trump’s recent statement on immigration. Paul’s response, as recorded by the good folks at Talking Points Memo, is astounding:

    “I think it’s a mistake to base immigration or moratoriums based on religion,” Paul said. “But you know, I’ve called for something similar, which is a moratorium based on high risk.”

    Look at that. Just read that quote again. Paul says something right—although it’s more than “a mistake” to base immigration or moratoriums on religion, it’s downright “unconstitutional”—and then he follows that up with “I’ve called for something similar.” So you have a man who at once repudiates an idea and then, acknowledging that it’s a popular idea, embraces it with literally his next breath. What Paul is trying to say here, I think, is that he’d do a better job of screening terrorists than Trump because naturally a Paul administration would be so much smarter than a Trump administration for some reason. But what he’s really saying is that he dislikes the idea but he likes how popular the idea is.

    This, pretty much, is a perfect example of the unabashed disaster that has been the 2016 Rand Paul campaign (if, indeed, the Rand Paul campaign even makes it to 2016.) Paul’s father made himself famous on his convictions. Even Ron Paul’s fiercest opponents had to admit he had convictions, even if they disagreed with every single one of those convictions. But Rand Paul is at once for war in the Middle East and against it, for domestic surveillance and against it, for profiling and against it. His only two criteria, it seems, are that it’s wrong if “they” do it and it’s right if Paul does it. Poor guy is only ever half-right, at best.

    It’s Too Soon to Tell if a Higher Minimum Wage is Eliminating Restaurant Jobs

    Allow me to save you a click: The answer to the Atlantic’s recent question, “Are Higher Minimum Wages Eliminating Restaurant Jobs?” is “it’s too soon to tell.”

    That’s the gist of the article and that’s the answer to the question. It’s also the truth, because it is, in fact, too soon to tell.

    Atlantic writer Russell Berman, too, could have saved you a click by simply titling the article truthfully—”It’s Too Soon to Tell if Higher Minimum Wage is Eliminating Restaurant Jobs” would be accurate, as would “It’s Too Soon to Tell if Higher Minimum Wage is Boosting Restaurant Jobs”—but then, of course, the Berman and the Atlantic wouldn’t be able to stir up the frothy sea of ire that floods Facebook feeds and drowns out Twitter discussions when otherwise-respectable reporters opt to trot out dubious studies and play to the fears of those who believe the old adages of trickle-down economics.

    Let’s evaluate this piece by piece.

    The article is, from the beginning, set up to confirm every expectation of a person who wants to hear that raising the minimum wage has cost restaurant jobs, without ever actually succeeding in doing so. Even focusing on the restaurant industry as a yardstick of the efficacy of raising the minimum wage (the industry is the largest employer of those making under $10.10, but only 18% of near-minimum wage workers are employed by restaurants) is something of a red herring, but that’s a separate issue.

    Under a hero image of a woman in a McDonald’s uniform—doubling down on the idea of “burger-flipper”—within the first few lines, Berman goes ahead and answers his own question.

    “One early report suggests hiring has slowed in the cities that changed their policies this year, but it’s probably too early to tell, economists say,” reads the subheader.

    So the answer to Berman’s lead (and leading) question is: it’s too soon to tell. But of course, he keeps going.

    Explaining that “the race is on to assess” the impact of higher minimum wages, the article begins by describing the higher minimum wage as controversial, opting not to note numerous studies showing that public support (including among small businesses) is growing rapidly.

    Then, again, Berman answers his own question:

    While many Republicans and business groups have opposed raising the wage floor on the grounds that employers will slow hiring or lay people off, major economic studies have found little negative impact on jobs.

    Oh. Case closed, then, right?

    No! Of course not. Because in spite of both research and anecdotal evidence—some of it coming from Seattle and Seattle restauranteurs themselves—Berman is determined to show both sides, or at least, the thin veil of “both sides.”

    Several economists said it’s too soon to get good data to evaluate the changes that went into effect earlier this year, but one conservative group is putting out a report on Friday that takes an early look at trends in the restaurant industry over the last several months.

    Once more for the cheap seats in the back: “It’s too soon to tell.” That hasn’t deterred conservative think tanks from, as Berman describes, racing to declare the minimum wage a disaster.

    The paper by researchers at the American Action Forum found that growth in restaurant employment in cities that raised their minimum wage in 2015 was slower than in their respective states as a whole. Restaurant jobs since the spring in Seattle’s metropolitan area, for example, have grown just 0.6 percent since , while they have grown by 6 percent across Washington state.

    What Berman leaves out: AAF’s study uses the same faulty data as a factually-problematic, widely debunked report by conservative economist Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

    The report, Media Matters pointed out at the time of its release, is based on faulty data, and even admits that—what’s that? Just that “it’s too soon to tell for sure.”

    Even conservatives in the Seattle area who don’t support a $15 minimum wage were quick to fact-check the aforementioned report, finding one very sticky element that discredits the figures: The “Seattle metropolitan area” didn’t raise the minimum wage, the City of Seattle did, and the City of Seattle makes up just one-fifth of the population of the “Seattle metropolitan area,” and occupies one-seventieth of the space.

    That essentially rules out the data, entirely—which doesn’t stop Berman from treating both the AAF study and Perry’s work as viable.

    Berman then quotes AAF’s director of labor policy, Ben Gitis, who stated that “the verdict is still out on how these policies will impact local employment.”

    In the parlance of the kids today: TooSoonToTell.

    Finally, though, Berman shifts away from the porous data of the AEI and the AAF, turning toward left-facing economists. Their verdict?

    “Everything that they’re documenting could be statistical noise,” says Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper.

    “It is simply not possible to reliably assess employment trends following minimum wage increases in cities like Seattle and San Francisco yet…Given data availability and reliability, I would essentially ignore any reports claiming to estimate employment effects from these policies,” added University of Massachusetts at Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube.

    Essentially ignore, you say? Done and done, Mr. Dube.

    Despite the extremely misleading title of this article, the point is this: It is just too early to determine whether raising the minimum wage has an impact on the sheer volume of jobs in the restaurant sector.

    It’s too early to say if it’s eliminating jobs, and it’s too early to say if it’s creating more. It’s too early to mourn the death of the Washington restaurant, and it’s too early to celebrate huge wins of economic growth. We simply do not have the data yet to draw these conclusions.

    What we can determine is that Seattle-area workers are currently ending the workweek with more money in their pocket, that Seattle is on track to post high numbers of new restaurant openings, and that restaurant owners are actually extremely optimistic about the increases.

    Tom Douglas, owner of dozens of Seattle-area restaurants, initially predicted that the city would see “maybe a quarter of the restaurants in town” shutter; he has since opened several new eateries, and told the Puget Sound Business Journal that he “has now changed his mind about the law.”

    Are higher wages eliminating restaurant jobs? To quote Russell Berman’s own reporting, “it’s too soon” to tell.

    Voting is power: A conversation with Ari Berman about the struggle for voting rights in America

    The Nation contributing writer Ari Berman’s excellent new book Give Us the Ballot tracks the history of voting rights in America from the 1950s to today. No less a civil rights giant than Congressman John Lewis calls Berman’s history a “must-read” that “should become a primer for every American” on the topic of voting equality. (Lewis, of course, figures heavily into Ballot’s narrative.) This Friday, Berman appears in conversation with Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez at Town Hall to talk about the state of voting rights nationally and in Washington State.

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    Berman freely admits he’s not an expert in Washington state voting law, but his research into the history of voting in America provides him with a unique perspective into what works and what doesn’t work. Washington’s vote-by-mail system was pitched as a way to increase voter turnout, but we’re still looking at some remarkably bad voting attendance here. As of yesterday,just 15.2 percent of King County voters had turned in their ballots, and turnout might stall at an astonishingly bad 40 percent when all the ballots are in. Is there any way to improve those numbers?“I think turnout is always low for municipal elections, and I’m not sure that’s the best barometer” for a healthy democracy, he explains over the phone. Colorado’s vote-by-mail system is more successful, he says, because it provides many locations around the state where voters can drop off ballots, as opposed to Washington’s limited ballot drop locations. But he promotes one particular type of voting reform more than any other: “States that have same-day voter registration tend to have higher voter turnout. I think that, more than any other single reform, same-day registration has boosted voter turnout in a lot of places.” (Automatic voter registration has been discussed in Washington, but it doesn’t appear to be moving forward.)

    One of the main talking points that politicians use to discriminate against minorities at the polls is the idea of voter fraud. “I think that there’s a right-wing echo chamber that has sustained the voter fraud myth for a long time,” Berman says. That consistent push to promote fraud completely ignores the idea of “how rare it is,” he explains—“particularly voter impersonation,” which is the most-discussed type of fraud, but which is in reality “exceedingly rare.” How rare? “There have been a billion votes cast since 2001” Berman says, but only 31 cases of voter fraud.

    We’ve seen very little positive movement on voting rights on a national level, but several states are experimenting with laws of their own. Local organizations are promoting the Washington Voting Rights Act, which is modeled on a successful California voter protection law. But that’s not enough. “The state’s voting rights acts are interesting constructs, but they’re no replacement for federal protection,” Berman warns. He understands the reason why they’re necessary—on a federal level, ”you not only have a hostile Congress but you have a hostile Supreme Court,” which requires states to take on the role of “laboratories of innovation.”

    Ask Berman if he has any advice for people who haven’t yet voted today, and his answer will likely surprise you. Local elections, he says, matter a lot — local positions are how we get into government in the first place, and a voter rights act in Yakima might lead to the election of the city’s first Latino candidate to the City Council today. But Berman says “I don’t want to rag on people who don’t vote in municipal elections because we have a lot of elections in this country—probably way too many.” Berman says the onslaught of mailers and phone calls and television ads never stops because we have elections every year. He believes that “at the very least every two years should be enough.”

    Though he can certainly understand voter fatigue, Berman is a big believer in the importance of voting. When confronted by people who believe that their votes don’t matter, Berman replies, “if their vote didn’t change anything, then why try to restrict voting rights? Clearly, that’s a sign that voting does matter—that people have tried to restrict it throughout history.” Further, “if you don’t vote, it’s not like you’ve gained power. You have less power, you’ve ceded your power to someone else, and they’re going to have more power than you after that.” On a day when every single city council position in Seattle is being decided, the balance of power rests with the people. How you vote—or even if you vote—will determine where that power goes.

    Cross-posted to The Seattle Review of Books.

    Rand Paul’s Upcoming Defeat Is a Failure of Libertarian Ideals

    Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 12.49.35 PMYesterday, Rand Paul livestreamed his entire day, which is a gimmick that just reeks of desperation. Here’s the best moment:

    So if Paul hated doing that “dumbass” livestream, why was he doing it? For media attention? To prove his transparency? Uh, maybe. But it certainly couldn’t be an attempt to draw attention way from the fact that Paul’s dad, Ron Paul, took the stand yesterday to testify in a trial, could it? Two 2012 Ron Paul aides have been charged with devising “a scheme to pay an Iowa state legislator for a primary season endorsement.” The elder Paul claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged scheme:

    Paul, who appeared as the government’s witness, appeared to take a benignly neglectful approach to campaign nitty-gritty. Asked how well he knew Kent Sorenson, the disgraced state senator whom Benton and Kesari are accused of paying for his endorsement, Paul said they “probably crossed paths,” then recounted how he was actually irritated when Sorenson showed up at a pre-Iowa caucus press conference.

    “I was annoyed, because I was thrown off balance,” Paul said. “Here I was, ready to give a speech, and I was told three minutes beforehand that a state senator was there to endorse me.”

    Quite a coincidence that Ron Paul’s appearance on the stand happened on the same day that his son decided to livestream his entire day, isn’t it? Anyway, the above video isn’t the only dumb thing Rand Paul said yesterday. He was asked about his feelings on workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, and his response was a misguided attempt to revive Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the American workplace:

    I think, really, the things you do in your house, just leave those in your house and it wouldn’t have to be part of the workplace, to tell you the truth… I think society is rapidly changing and that if you are gay, there are plenty of places that will hire you.

    So after his asinine attempt to revive DADT, Paul argues that discrimination against gay people is fine because there are plenty of places that don’t discriminate, which gets the idea of civil rights exactly wrong. (That’s not surprising; Paul’s been bad on civil rights for his entire career.) It’s a dumb statement from a dumb man.

    The truth is, Rand Paul is not a serious candidate for president. His donors have abandoned him and he’s circling the drain. How can you tell Rand Paul is not going to be in the race very long? His campaign just released a statement this morning insisting that Rand Paul is “Here to stay.” When that kind of thing happens, you know it’s just a matter of time before the clock runs out.

    It’s getting so bad that news outlets are releasing pre-postmortems of the Paul campaign. The best one of that very particular genre is this Pando story by Mark Ames that digs down into the Paul presidential campaign’s many problems, from fleeing donors to an alleged lack of ethics. Ames argues that Paul is guilty of running a “corrupt shitshow” of a campaign, but he also says that Paul’s failure is actually a failure of libertarianism. You should go read the whole story. It’s about as damning of a preemptory eulogy that Rand Paul’s going to get.

    Last Night’s Democratic Debate Was Inspiring and Substantive (Except for the Parts with Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee)

    Two of these things are not like the others...

    Two of these things are not like the others…

    Tonight’s Democratic debate felt like that first gust of fresh air after being stuck on a transatlantic flight for altogether way too long. The clowning and capering of the last two Republican debates had transformed our ideas of normalcy to something unrecognizable. Of course a bunch of adults would spend three hours pretending to have seen nonexistent videos and creating scary straw men for us to fear. Isn’t that what politicians do?

    Well, no. The truth is, politicians are supposed to talk about issues. That’s what happened tonight. Let’s be clear: the debate wasn’t perfect. Very little attention was paid to LGBT issues. Host Anderson Cooper spent the first half an hour trying to incite petty squabbles. And the two conservative Democrats on the stage—the stodgy Jim Webb and the loopy Lincoln Chafee—were not deserving of our time or our attention. (Chafee was out of his league and Webb didn’t seem to understand that he was not running for the Republican nomination.)

    But for most of the night, real issues were discussed: income inequality, the Black Lives Matter movement, criminal justice reform. And the candidates didn’t try to pick fights with one another. It was downright civilized.

    Hillary Clinton, by any metric, won the night. Even when she was saying something disagreeable to most Democratic voters—she sounded conservative when talking about Edward Snowden, for example, and she sounded old-fashioned when talking about marijuana legalization—she demonstrated a reasonable and authoritative air. She seemed, yes, presidential. Her moment of real passion, a sturdy defense of Planned Parenthood and a refutation of conservative attempts to control the reproductive rights of women, was a truly powerful argument. She didn’t let anyone trample over her, and she was mostly gracious toward her fellow candidates.

    Bernie Sanders, too, had a great night. At first, Sanders seemed a little lost, especially on foreign policy. To be fair, he performed abysmally on the topic of gun responsibility, trying to frame it as an issue of rural America versus urban America. That kind of division didn’t work when Sarah Palin talked about the real America, and it certainly won’t court Democrats who are nervous about Sanders’ record on guns. But he was passionate about the economy, and he was smart when talking about war and the PATRIOT Act. On a few occasions, Sanders spoke of his plans for the future, calling on “millions of Americans” who are suddenly going to care about politics and get involved with reforming government. At those moments, he sounded more like an ideologue and less like a politician; one would hope that, if those millions of disaffected Americans didn’t materialize, Sanders would have some sort of a backup plan.

    And Martin O’Malley got progressively better and better as the evening went on, ending with an encouraging closing statement that sounded hopeful and inspiring and smart. O’Malley occasionally would disappear for long stretches of the debate, and he at first didn’t sound either confident or particularly lively. But by the end, he had found his voice. He was especially persuasive when talking about gun responsibility, earning the audience’s affection when he crowed about making foes of the NRA.

    These three candidates gave the sense that they could debate once a week through the beginning of the Iowa caucuses, and that they’d find new topics to discuss and debate every time. They sounded substantive and passionate and intelligent. There’s not one moment of the Republican debates that didn’t seem smaller in comparison to the Democratic debate tonight. That’s a promising sign for the future.