Twenty-four million people tuned in to watch the first prime-time debate among 10 Republican presidential candidates. What were they expecting, a love-in?
Some conservative critics dumped on Fox News with a vitriol usually reserved for liberal media.
David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network said Fox (where I appear as a commentator) should be “utterly ashamed,” calling the questions asked of Donald Trump “unethical and downright nasty.”
“Shame” was a word frequently used by critics of Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.
Rush Limbaugh was slightly more restrained. Limbaugh objected to the “war on women,” question asked by Ms. Kelly of Donald Trump. Mr. Limbaugh said the “war on women” is a Democratic construct and is the kind of question one might expect from the “drive-by media,” as he calls the rest of the journalistic pack.
Liberals, like New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, praised the questions asked by the panelists, which will likely further anger conservatives.
While every viewer probably had questions they wish had been asked, overall I thought the panel’s choices were fine. The Baier question about whether all the candidates would support the nominee exposed Mr. Trump as something less than a party loyalist. He wouldn’t say when he had become a Republican after many years as a Democrat and his contributions to Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton, which he said were necessary in order to do business in New York, might sound to some like influence-buying.
Alexandra Petri of the delightfully named Washington Post blog, Compost, wrote that Ms. Kelly’s “God question” (from a Facebook participant) was not the kind “that belong on a stage with this kind of stakes.” Yes it does, because several of the candidates are openly Christian and often invoke religious language in support of their political positions. It was an appropriate question in 1976 for Jimmy Carter, who was open about his faith. And it was appropriate when reporter Fred Barnes asked Walter Mondale if he was a born-again Christian during his 1984 debate with President Reagan.
As one with some experience in responding to aggressive questioning from liberal TV and radio interrogators, here are some suggestions for the candidates should these questions come up again.
The real war on women is an economy that has left a record 93 million people out of the labor force; 56 million of these non-workers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The war on women is also about the 56 million aborted babies who will never have a chance at life thanks to the lies Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers tell women about their babies. The candidate could praise alternative pregnancy help centers where women who have unplanned pregnancies receive help and support and those who have had abortions can experience healing.
A candidate might also respond to the “God question” by saying the belief that God favors America or Americans over other countries and people is idolatry. As the prophet Isaiah said, God sees all nations “like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). That should cause candidates to reconsider Abraham Lincoln’s line about it being more important that America is on God’s side, than God being on America’s side.
Jeb Bush did the best pivot of the evening. Asked about his role as the former director of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization headed by Michael Bloomberg, which has donated to Planned Parenthood, Mr. Bush said he was there to promote education and knew nothing about the company’s contributions to other causes. He then detailed his pro-life record as Florida governor.
That’s the way to respond. If the candidate doesn’t like a question, deflect it and give an answer to a question that should have been asked.
Liberals praising the Fox panel should encourage panelists at the Democratic debates to follow that network’s example and ask tough questions of those candidates, especially Hillary Clinton. But after eight years of the media mostly worshipping President Obama, I’m doubtful that will happen.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).