There was a surprisingly substantive and unexpectedly engaging back-and-forth discussion between the four undercard candidates in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday night. But will it make any difference in the race?
Despite some memorable lines from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and even from dark-horse contender George Pataki, the former governor of New York, time appears to running out on the candidates at the bottom of the pack. None are poised to break into double digits in the polls the way Carly Fiorina did after a strong performance in the first undercard event two months ago.
Yet the “happy hour” debate was notable for a few things.
Both Pataki and Graham were sharply critical of the GOP’s position on climate change. They warned that global warming is real and that Republicans need to deal with it. Graham took aim at a favorite talking point by Republicans, who are fond of saying they are not scientists and thus not qualified to weigh in on the issue. He said he talks to scientists, and more than 90% of them believe global warming is real and that is enough for him.
Pataki embraced an agenda more commonly associated with Democrats, touting the virtues of renewable fuels and solar panels.
“Too often we question science that everyone accepts,” Pataki said, adding that skepticism of vaccines among some GOP candidates “is ridiculous in the 21st century.”
That global warming is real, Pataki said, “is uncontroverted.”
Graham also used the debate to hammer on his favorite theme of national security, repeatedly saying he had the experience to strengthen America’s standing. He pointed to the provocations of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, saying that would not be happening if someone like Ronald Reagan – or Lindsey Graham – were in charge. He vowed that China would be brought to heel under a Graham presidency.
“So to the Chinese, when it comes to dealing with me, you've got a clenched fist or an open hand,” he said. “You pick. The party's over, to all the dictators. Make me commander in chief and this crap stops.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, found himself overshadowed for much of the event. When he thanked Colorado, where the debate was taking place, for supporting him in the 2012 primary, it seemed like that victory was 100 years in the past. He also irked many conservatives by making a full-throated endorsement of the Export-Import bank, a lending institution that many Republicans would like to see abolished.
“Every major competitor for the United States' manufacturing dollar has one of those banks,” he said. “So in order to have a level playing field, which is what conservatives talk about all the time -- level playing field -- then we have to have export financing.” The comments did not go over well with the Republican base, if Twitter is any indication.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was also on the stage, and he had a lot to say. But much of it was in defense of his record in that state, as Jindal found himself forced to respond to a panel of very skeptical CNBC moderators who kept returning to the budget mess that has consumed the state government during his tenure.
The debate was focused narrowly on money and business issues, and one that arose was the potential consolidation of several large beer manufacturers, including Colorado-based Coors. Candidate were asked whether they were troubled by one beverage company having “too much power” over consumers.
But the question made for a good lead-in to some drinking anecdotes.
Santorum noted that, ever grateful for Colorado’s support in the last election, he drinks a lot of Coors.
Graham talked about the difficulties growing up in the back of the bar his family owned. “I know beer,” he said.