Nobody Mentioned the Minimum Wage in Tonight’s GOP “Economic” Debate

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican frontrunners.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican frontrunners.

In terms of pure optics, Marco Rubio obviously won the GOP debate tonight, and Jeb Bush lost. That early confrontation between the two men positioned Rubio as a good communicator and Bush as a terrible one, and that narrative stuck for the rest of the night. Bush practically disappeared, while Rubio dominated the rest of the debate. The narrative about Bush quitting is going to gain steam after this disastrous performance.

So far as the other candidates go: Donald Trump and Ben Carson continued to float over all the other candidates on their expectation-free clouds; they neither won nor lost, because typical campaign physics don’t apply to them right now. Chris Christie had a good night, but it won’t be enough to save his campaign from irrelevancy. Ted Cruz earned a few more votes. Carly Fiorina delivered another whopping lie with a straight face, but it wasn’t enough to kick her out of the middle of the pack. Nobody else mattered.

But let’s reflect on what matters, here: tonight’s Republican debate was purportedly on the topic of economics. Instead, we saw every single candidate whine about their media coverage. Nobody mentioned the minimum wage. Income inequality barely came up. As I predicted, their proposed solutions to America’s economic problems involved tax cuts and removing regulations and all the other trickle-down techniques we’ve seen since the dawn of time.

The CNBC moderators did a terrible job of keeping the candidates in line—in fact, Rubio and the rest trampled the moderators at every opportunity—and they didn’t press the candidates on the issues that matter. So instead, the public has to wrestle with the same impossible math problem they’ve been handed at the end of every Republican debate in recent memory: if government can’t raise any more money, and if government is supposed to increase the size of the military, and if government can’t raise the minimum wage or fix health care or provide Social Security or fix runaway college debt, how the hell are ordinary Americans supposed to improve their status? How is anything going to get any better? That’s the one question that matters, and the Republicans didn’t bother to answer.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.