Media Claim GOP Debate Was “Substantive,” Ignore That “The Substance Was Wrong”

Media are lauding CNN and the Republican presidential candidates for a “surprisingly substantive” March 10 debate that “focused on jobs, the economy, education, Cuba, Israel and even ... climate change.” Despite this praise, fact-checkers are pointing to the candidates' “bruised realities” and “wrong” policy claims, saying the “debate was very substantive. Too bad that substance was all wrong.”

Fact-Checkers Respond: Donald Trump

Fact-Checkers Respond: Marco Rubio

Fact-Checkers Respond: Ted Cruz

Fact Checkers Respond: John Kasich

Media Declare GOP Debate “Substantive” And “Focused On Issues”

NPR: “GOP Debate Focused On Issues Instead Of Personal Insults.” In a March 11 story, NPR characterized the 12th Republican presidential primary debate as being “focused on the issues instead of personal insults.” NPR political correspondent and frequent Fox News guest Mara Liasson applauded the Republican participants for staying “on their best behavior.” [NPR, 3/11/16]

Wolf Blitzer: “This Was A Really Substantive, Important Debate On The Critically Most Important Issues.”  During the March 10 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, which was dedicated to post-debate coverage, CNN host Wolf Blitzer labeled the debate “really substantive” during an interview with presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), adding that “all of us [at CNN] were pleased” by the tone of the debate:

WOLF BLITZER (HOST): This was a really substantive, important debate on the critically most important issues, and I think all of us were pleased by that. What was the biggest issue, from your perspective, that makes you more qualified to be president than the three others? [CNN, Anderson Cooper 3603/10/16]

New York Times: Debate Was “Substance Over Theater.”  In a March 11 debate recap, The New York Times' Alan Rappeport wrote that “Republican presidential candidates turned to substance over theatrics on Thursday night,” and pointed to the candidates' supposed focus on issues including “trade, terrorism, and immigration” :

The Republican presidential candidates turned to substance over theatrics on Thursdaynight in a final effort to court voters before they go to the polls in Florida, Ohio and three other states next week, in what could be a decisive Primary Day. There was little sparring and only a few barbs as the contenders largely stuck to talk of trade, terrorism and immigration. Commentators and critics thought a “low-energy” Donald J. Trump seemed to be running out the clock, while Senator Marco Rubio delivered a sharp performance that probably came too late. [The New York Times3/11/16]

Politico: “CNN Ditches The Circus For Substance.” In a March 11 article headlined “CNN ditches the circus for substance,” Politico's Hadas Gold characterized the Republican debate as “more 'Downton Abbey' than 'Real Housewives,'” and claimed that “the debate was surprisingly substantive, focusing on jobs, the economy, education, Cuba, Israel, and even an unusual subject for a Republican debate: climate change” :

The stakes were high for Thursday's Republican debate on CNN. After two much-criticized brawls that devolved into schoolyard name-calling, the table was set for another night of puerile insults and substance-free taunts.

But instead, the debate was more “Downton Abbey” than “Real Housewives.”

“I just found it to be a very elegant evening,” Trump said in a post-debate interview with CNN.

On a day when the news cycle focused on violence at Trump rallies and his claim that Islam hates America, the debate was surprisingly substantive -- focused on jobs, the economy, education, Cuba, Israel and even an unusual subject for a Republican debate: climate change. [Politico3/11/16]

Fact-Checkers: Candidates Pushed Falsehoods On Common Core, Economy, Welfare, Social Security, The Military, And Climate Change

Ezra Klein: “This Substantive Debate Mostly Showed How Weak A Grasp On The Issues The [Republican] Candidates Actually Have.”  In a March 10 article headlined “The Republican debate was very substantive. Too bad that substance was wrong,” Vox's Ezra Klein lambasted GOP presidential candidates for presenting “wrong, misleading, misinformed, confused, or ridiculous” proposals as “substance” at the Republican presidential debate (emphasis added):

Thursday's CNN Republican debate was widely praised for being the most substantive clash of the cycle before. And it was substantive. The only problem was the substance was wrong.

[...]

So was this debate substantive? Sure, in the sense that it focused on weighty policy topics like Social Security and trade and the assembled candidates mostly used their inside voices. But the things the candidates actually said were, by turns, wrong, misleading, misinformed, confused, or ridiculous. This substantive debate mostly showed how weak a grasp on the issues the candidates actually have. [Vox, 3/10/16]

Donald Trump

Wash. Post: “Trump Continues To Say Common Core Is Flawed Because It Is Federally-Run ... But It Has Been, And Still Is, A State-Led Effort.” In a March 11 fact check of the GOP debate, Washington Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee took on numerous false statements and exaggerations forwarded by each of the Republican candidates. In particular, they corrected Republican front-runner Donald Trump's false claim that Common Core has been “taken over by Washington,” (emphasis added):

Trump continues to say Common Core is flawed because it is a federally-run program enacted from Washington, imposed on local governments. But it has been, and still is, a state-led effort where governors and school chiefs set the standards. It has been a state-led effort, and states have opted into adopting the standards. There was something revealing during Thursdaynight's debate: When moderator Jake Tapper pushed back to Trump, the Republican front-runner agreed that Common Core is, indeed, a state-led effort.But it's been “taken over by Washington,” Trump continued, and is a “disaster.” But the federal government didn't “take over” Common Core. It still remains a state-led program. States revise the standards to fit their state, and then allow state and local school districts to shape the curriculums for themselves. And in December, Congress actually took measures to scale back the federal government's power when it comes to local governments. This federal education law explicitly states that the federal government can't influence local decisions about academic standards, according to our colleague Lyndsey Layton. More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core K-12 academic standards in math and reading. [The Washington Post3/11/16]

FactCheck.org: Trump “Falsely Claimed” That Economic Growth In the United States Is “Zero, Essentially.” In a March 11 fact check of the Republican debate, which addressed at least 15 false statements and exaggerations by the candidates, FactCheck.org explained, “Trump falsely claimed that U.S. economic growth was at 'zero, essentially.' ... In fact, real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2 percent in the third quarter of last year and an estimated 1 percent in the final quarter” :

Trump falsely claimed that U.S. economic growth was at “zero, essentially.”

[...]

In fact, real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2 percent in the third quarter of last year and an estimated 1 percent in the final quarter, according to the most recent release from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on Feb. 26.

That could be considered sluggish, to be sure. During the 1980s and 1990s, real GDP averaged annual growth of more than 3 percent per year. But 2 percent and 1 percent are not “zero.” [FactCheck.org, 3/11/16]

FactCheck.org: “Trump Repeated His Exaggerated Boast That He Is 'Self-Funding' His Campaign.” FactCheck.org revisited Trump's “exaggerated boast that he is 'self-funding' his campaign ... In fact, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. -- his campaign committee -- reports that it had received $7,497,984 in individual contributions through the end of January,” amounting to “29 percent of the committee's total receipts” :

Trump repeated his exaggerated boast that he is “self-funding” his campaign: “I'm self-funding my campaign. Nobody is going to be taking care of me. I don't want anybody's money.” Not quite. In fact, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. -- his campaign committee -- reports that it had received $7,497,984 in individual contributions through the end of January. That amounts to 29 percent of the committee's total receipts, which totaled $25,526,319. [FactCheck.org, 3/11/16]

Marco Rubio

CNN: “Rubio Claimed That U.S. Legislation To Combat Climate Change Would Have 'Zero' Impact.... We Rate Rubio's Claim As False.” In a March 11 fact check of its own debate, CNN rated Rubio's claim “that U.S. legislation to combat climate change would have 'zero' impact” as “false,” concluding that “researchers say [the legislation] would have some impact on the environment” :

Rubio claimed that U.S. legislation to combat climate change would have “zero” impact on the environment due to China and India's relatively larger contributions to global pollution levels.

According to data from the European Commission, the United States is second to China in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, while India is third.

If the world's second largest polluter, responsible for 15.9% of the world's carbon emissions per capita, drastically reduced its carbon footprint, researchers say it would have some impact on the environment.

Therefore we rate Rubio's claim as false. [CNN, 3/11/16]

Wash. Post: Rubio's “Zombie Claim about The Shrinking Navy Just Won't Go Away.” In The Washington Post's fact check of the GOP debate, Kessler and Lee took apart Rubio's claim that the United States has “the smallest Navy in a century,” saying, “Fact checkers have repeatedly debunked this Three Pinocchio claim” since it first came up during the 2012 presidential elections. Kessler and Lee noted that “the Navy is on track to grow to just over 300 ships, approximately the size that a bipartisan congressional panel has recommended” (emphasis added):

This used to be a staple claim during GOP debates that went away for a few debates, but it returned thanks to Rubio. This zombie claim about the shrinking Navy just won't go away. Fact checkers have repeatedly debunked this Three Pinocchio claim in the 2012 presidential elections. The current number of ships in the Navy is 272. It is the lowest count since 1916, when there were 245 ships. A lot has changed in 100 years, including the need and capacity of ships. After all, it's a now a matter of modern nuclear-powered fleet carriers, versus gunboats and small warships of 100 years ago. The push for ships under the Reagan era (to build the Navy up to 600-ship levels) no longer exists, and ships from that era are now retiring. There are other ways to measure seapower than just the sheer number of ships, according to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: “That's pretty irrelevant. We also have fewer telegraph machines than we did in World War I and we seem to be doing fine without that. ... Look at the capability. Look at the missions that we do.”  Plus, the Navy is on track to grow to just over 300 ships, approximately the size that a bipartisan congressional panel has recommended for the current Navy. [The Washington Post3/11/16]

Ted Cruz

AP: Cruz Claimed That He Will “End Welfare Benefits For Anyone Who Is Here Illegally,” Yet Undocumented Immigrants “Are Not Eligible For Federal Welfare Benefits Already.”  In a fact check of the Republican presidential debate titled “Bruised Realities In GOP Debate,” the Associated Press corrected Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) claim that undocumented immigrants receive “welfare benefits,” saying “it's unclear what benefits Cruz could take away” because undocumented immigrants “generally are not eligible for federal benefits already.” The AP added that some American-born children of undocumented immigrants might qualify for and receive federal benefits, but their eligibility for such programs was enshrined by the Supreme Court and is “not something a president can merely end through executive action or legislation” (emphasis added):

TED CRUZ: “We're gonna end welfare benefits for anyone who is here illegally.”

THE FACTS: It's unclear what benefits Cruz could take away. Immigrants living in the country illegally generally are not eligible for federal welfare benefits already.

To be sure, the U.S.-citizen children and spouses of immigrants who are in the country illegally are entitled to federal benefits, including food stamps and housing programs. Public hospitals are required to provide emergency medical care regardless of immigration status.

And children are also legally entitled to a free public education, regardless of their immigration status. But that's because of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling, not something a president can merely end through executive action or legislation. [Associated Press, 3/11/16]

Ezra Klein: Cruz's Plan To “Save” Social Security “Was Almost Impressively Disingenuous.” In his March 10 reaction to the GOP debate, Vox's Ezra Klein lambasted Ted Cruz's idea that “you must destroy Social Security to save it.” Klein explained that Cruz “ignored the issue of market volatility and instead focused on finances,” and that "privatizing Social Security makes its near-term fiscal problems worse, not better (emphasis added):

“Senator Cruz,” the moderator asked, “You advocate allowing younger workers to put some of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts. What do you say to critics who say that market volatility means that this is a disastrous proposal?”

Cruz's reply was almost impressively disingenuous. He ignored the issue of market volatility and instead focused on finances. “Social Security right now is careening towards insolvency, and it's irresponsible,” he replied. “And any politician that doesn't step forward and address it is not being a real leader.”

Here's what Cruz didn't say: privatizing Social Security makes its near-term fiscal problems worse, not better. As Greg Anrig explained during the debate over George W. Bush's privatization plan, when you move to a system with private accounts, “Funds now being set aside to build up the trust funds to provide for retiring Baby Boomers would be used instead to pay for the privatization accounts. The government would have to start borrowing from the private sector almost immediately to be able to meet commitments to retirees and near-retirees.”

There are reasons you might support private accounts in Social Security. But one of those reasons simply isn't that you think the program is near-term insolvent. If you want to close Social Security's funding gap, you don't take money out of the program to create private accounts, you use spending cuts or tax increases to put more money into the program. [Vox, 3/10/16]

Wash. Post: Cruz Claimed That Iran “Wants Nuclear Weapons To Murder Us,” Ignoring Fact That The Iran Nuclear Deal “Halted And Reduced The Scale Of The Program.” The Washington Post's fact-checkers explained that “the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program has, at least for the moment, halted and reduced the scale of the program. Moreover, Khomeini has not directly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the United States” (emphasis added):

“The Ayatollah Khomeini wants nuclear weapons to murder us.”

-- Ted Cruz

Officially, Iran has denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, the Obama administration has often noted that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. (A fatwa is a ruling by a religious authority, often with judicial implications.)

The Fact Checker in 2013 looked closely at whether the fatwa actually was issued, and determined the evidence for it is rather fuzzy. It appeared to exist mainly as part of Iran's diplomatic portfolio to insist its nuclear ambitions were innocent in nature.

In any case, the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program has, at least for the moment, halted and reduced the scale of the program. Moreover, Khomeini has not directly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the United States. [The Washington Post3/11/16]

CNN: Cruz Falsely Claimed That The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act “Led To The Great Depression. ” In its March 10 fact check, CNN highlighted Cruz's claim that “Smoot-Hawley led to the Great Depression,” explaining thatwhilethe legislation “may have contributed to its 'depth and length,' the act was passed nearly eight months after the start of the Great Depression, therefore it could not have ” led to the Great Depression"(emphasis added):

Cruz and Trump battled over trade policy and whether the imposition of tariffs would aid the American economy.

Trump favored the use of tariffs while Cruz cited the passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act as evidence of the damage that tariffs can do to an economy, blaming the act for causing the Great Depression. The act increased nearly 900 American import duties.

Cruz said, “We've seen prior presidential candidates who propose massive tariffs, you know. Smoot-Hawley led to the Great Depression.”

[...]

While it may have contributed to its “depth and length,” the act was passed nearly eight months after the start of the Great Depression, therefore it could not have “led to the Great Depression.” [CNN, 3/11/16]

John Kasich

Wash. Post: Kasich “Overstates The Role Of The Congress In Which He Served” In Balancing The Budget. The Washington Post's Kessler and Lee explained that Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) “overstates the role of the Congress” in balancing the federal budget in the 1990s. As Kessler and Lee point out, Kasich actually voted against the “two big deficit-reduction deals” passed by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton whenKasich was a member of the House of Representatives. By the time Kasich took over the Budget Committee in 1994, “economic forces that had little to do with either Democrats or Republicans” had already created “a gusher of tax revenue” :

“I actually got the budget balanced when I was a member of the Congress, the chairman of the budget committee.” -- John Kasich

Kasich likes to make this claim but it really overstates the role of the Congress in which he served. Kasich actually voted against two big deficit-reduction deals advanced by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 1990 and 1993, which raised taxes and helped set the stage for the dramatic increases in revenue that eliminated the budget deficit. But even those deals were not intended to achieve balanced budgets. When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 --and Kasich became chairman of the Budget Committee --they did put the notion of a balanced budget on the policy agenda. But Washington also got lucky because there were economic forces that had little to do with either Democrats or Republicans: A gusher of tax revenue emerged, primarily from capital-gains taxes, because of the run-up in the stock market, as well as taxes paid on stock options earned by technology executives. [The Washington Post3/11/16]