How Can We Make America Great Again? Part II: What do the Republican Presidential Candidates Mean by That?

My plan here is to note the problems that the top ten republican presidential candidates (I’ll just call them “the candidates” from now on) identify as causing American to lose its greatness and the reasons why. In later posts I will address and comment on those claims.

I put a lot of research into this one. I read the candidates’ websites, and entered the information into an outline that became quite difficult to read. I then attempted to edit the outline so I could better see the patterns I needed, but it didn’t really help. That exercise, however, has helped see the big picture so I feel I’m ready to start writing.

For the candidates, the easiest answer to the question posed above is, “We need a different president in office.” And I am pretty sure we can narrow that down a bit more to, “I should be the next president.” Each candidate’s website informs the reader of proposed changes to programs and policies which will improve America’s position in the world. Working backwards, we can extrapolate the problems these changes are suppose to address, and consequently, in what ways the candidates feel America has lost its greatness.

A quick note on campaign slogans. I have been using Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” but we also have Ted Cruz’s “Reigniting the Promise of America” and “Heal, Inspire, Revive” from Ben Carson. There’s Marco Rubio’s “A New American Century,” Jeb Bush’s “Restore a Freer, Stronger America,” and Rand Paul’s “Defeat the Washington Machine.” Mike Huckabee gives us “From Hope to Higher Ground,” Carly Fiorina wants to “Take Our Country Back,” and John Kasich plans on “Building a Better Country.” Only Chris Christie’s “Telling It Like It Is” doesn’t directly imply that there are problems to fix; well, not until you listen to what he’s telling you.

From their websites, there is considerable overlap in what the candidates consider problems that should be addressed. For several, there is also some agreement on the proposed solutions. In order of importance as determined by the number of candidates who address the issue, we have:

1. Taxes (10)
2. Economy & Job Creation (10)
3. Education (9)
4. Health Care (8)
5. Immigration (8)
6. Threats to the Second Amendment (Gun Rights) (8)
7. Terrorism, ISIS, Iran, Cuba, Syria (8)
8. Regulations (7)
9. Federal Spending and Debt (7)
10. Military Readiness & Funding (7)

Let’s take these one at a time.

All ten candidates consider the current tax system to be problematic. Many mention the number of pages the tax code takes up – all of them wrong, but it is still a big number – and all propose a simpler system. The proposed changes to the U.S. system to collect revenue differ considerably and include proposals for a national sales tax (Fair Tax), a flat tax (one income tax rate for every taxpayer regardless of income), and simpler income tax systems with reduced rates and fewer deductions and loopholes. Some plans would cut revenue sharply and rely on additional tax revenue from the job growth they expect to result from people and businesses having more money to spent (as many as 4,861,000 new jobs over the next decade for one plan). So Public Enemy #1 is the current tax system and it’s likely a majority of Americans would agree.

Economy & Job Creation
According to the candidates, many economists and ordinary Americans, the economic recovery seems lackluster. While there has been significant job growth since the low point in February 2010, there is a lack of quality middle-class jobs being created. All candidates consider this a major problem and most blame the issue on the president. The proposed solutions are designed to make it easier to conduct business in the United States, and therefore, create more jobs. First there’s the tax code – see item #1. Reduce taxes on businesses and they will invest more in America. The current corporate tax rate in the U.S. is 35%, but there are so many deductions and loopholes, that some corporations – including large ones – pay no taxes at all in some years. The candidates contend that with a lower tax rate and level playing field, businesses will stay here and create jobs. Another deterrent to job creation is the added cost of doing business in the U.S. because of regulations that are not in effect in other countries, so many candidates contend that the number and cost of regulations should be reviewed and reduced.

There was good consensus among the candidates that the federal government should stay out of the education of our children other than to provide funding. The Common Core, which is designed to provide uniform educational standards for the entire country that better prepare students for today’s jobs and colleges, was soundly rejected. All candidates who addressed this issue contend that state and local governments are better suited to decide on curriculum, textbooks, and teaching plans than is the federal Department of Education. Many feel that local governance will better engage parents and students and produce better results. Higher education was also addressed by many and affordability and relevance to job skills were the major themes. While those were the goals, there were few specific solutions offered.

Health Care
All candidates who addressed health care reform agreed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced. The ideas for replacement, however, differ substantially. I’ll address health care in a future part for this series, but it seems to me that there are a number of ideas offered with little thought given to the costs or consequences. Many candidates tout a market-based solution, but then note that federal funds would be used to purchase health insurance for certain groups and that there would be mandates to ensure those with pre-existing medical conditions don’t slip through the cracks. That’s not a market-based solution, of course, but by adding those caveats, you don’t alienate those who are worried about how to pay for insurance or whether their current health issues will be a problem for them in the new system.

Both legal and illegal immigration were addressed by many candidates. Donald Trump has been most outspoken with his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and “Make Mexico pay for it.” He has also stated that all Muslims should be banned from entry “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses….” Trump represents the most extreme view on immigration, but most candidates want a wall – either in certain areas or along the entire border – and there have been Islamic-phobic statements from other candidates, although not on their websites. A few candidates want to change the constitution to end birthright citizenship. In general, illegal immigration is considered a problem because it takes jobs away from U.S. citizens and lowers wages because undocumented workers will agree to accept lower pay. Many of the candidates also feel that legal immigration should be curtailed or paused until it is fully evaluated or if the unemployment rate is too high. A few candidates also addressed H-1B visas which allow skilled guest workers to fill jobs when businesses are unable to find qualified U.S. citizens with the needed skills.

Threats to the Second Amendment (Gun Rights)
The majority of candidates noted threats to gun ownership, but there has been little successful action toward gun control on the local level and none in congress. Why is this addressed by so many candidates when there isn’t a serious threat? Two reasons. First, the U.S. has a lot of mass shootings (4 or more people) – more than one a day, on average. When a high profile shooting occurs, the president and other people of a more liberal persuasion than the candidates complain about the easy access to guns in this country and suggest “common sense gun reform.” While there’s no chance of passage in the republican-controlled congress, the conversation is considered a threat to gun ownership. Second, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is an extremely powerful organization and no conservative politician can be seen as supporting any tightening of rules for gun ownership. That is why, only days after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Senate Republicans voted down a proposal that people on the No Fly List – that is, people the federal government have identified as potential terrorists – not be barred from purchasing firearms.

Terrorism, ISIS, Iran, Cuba, Syria
I lumped these together, but that doesn’t mean that I believe the three countries listed are terrorists nations. Some of the candidates do, however, and there are proposals to revoke the Iran Nuclear Deal and end diplomatic relations with Cuba. The websites haven’t caught up with the stance most of the candidates took during last week’s debate. All candidates who have a plan to defeat ISIS propose a military solution with cooperation and troops from allies, often with increased surveillance, propaganda, and other intelligence programs.

Regulations designed to ensure clean air and water, fair treatment of employees/contractors, health care, safe food and drugs, investment security, gun safety, and to protect endangered species are considered by the candidates to be a burden to business and should be reviewed and reduced. If accomplished, the candidates contend that business and innovation will flourish, jobs will be created, the U.S. will be more energy secure, and products will still be safe. Most candidates mentioned the REINS Act which would give congress the authority to approve or reject any new regulations with an annual cost to business of more than $100 million.

Federal Spending and Debt
Here, the candidates blame both the president and congress for spending too much over the years. The plans cut government spending by reducing the federal workforce and sending responsibility for many government duties to state governments with federal funds supplied as block grants. The more dramatic the candidate’s tax cut plan, the more drastic the government employee and department/agency cuts.
Military Readiness & Funding
Because so many members of congress have taken a pledge to never raise taxes, some interesting strategies have been employed so that promise can be kept. In 2011, Congress was deadlocked in budget negotiations and passed a law which mandated $1 trillion across the board cuts to many social programs and the military beginning in 2013 if they were unable to develop a budget by the end of 2012. They weren’t, and the cuts began two years ago. All the candidates who consider military readiness a problem intend to end the sequester budget cuts to the military once in office. They claim that the military is understaffed which has caused an undue burden on military personnel and National Guard troops.

That’s the top ten. Now it’s time to look at them closely.

Next Time: Part III – Let’s Explore Taxes, the Economy and Jobs

About tonyj126

I'm a 50+ married man who always seems to have a large backlog of work to do, but also a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Much of the work I do is volunteer or taking care of extended family members. I suffer from, as my priest calls it, "the sin of self-sufficiency," which means I can figure out how to do most things myself, and consequently, reduce the need for community to solve problems. As a logical extention (at least to me), I find myself called to comtemplate the country's and the world's woes and offer my observations. I hope someone out there will find them useful.
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