City Issues Notably Absent from Third Republican Presidential Debate

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This is a guest post by Devon Hawkins-Anderson.

Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate in Colorado produced the most substantive discussion we have seen to date from the Republican candidates – yet the local perspective was still lacking.

The ten top-polling 2016 GOP presidential candidates stepped up to the plate to debate economic issues at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on October 28, 2015. (photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate may have left many viewers with the impression that it was equal parts policy forum and popularity contest. While the past two contests resulted in more puns and personal attacks than policy statements, last night the candidates delved into the details of economic plans and entitlement programs. Most news sources agree that Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, and Governor Chris Christie made the strongest showings.

Favorites and frontrunners Donald Trump, Governor Jeb Bush, and Governor John Kasich struggled to get a foothold. Regardless of reported winners and losers, all main stage candidates took a break from touting past economic accomplishments and submitted more substantive arguments for improving the economy and putting Americans to work. Still, there was scant talk of issues most affecting America’s cities.

Candidates seemed to over-promise when the discussion moved towards cutting taxes and creating jobs. As expected, Donald Trump demonstrated his trademark aplomb when describing his economic plan:

“Yes, it’s very simple. We’re going to make a really dynamic economy from what we have right now, which is not at all dynamic. We’re going to bring jobs back from Japan, we’re going to bring jobs back from China, we’re going to bring, frankly, jobs back from Mexico… We’re going to bring jobs and manufacturing back. We’re going to cut costs. We’re going to save Social Security, and we’re going to save Medicare.”

Consistent with the running theme of the GOP primary race, the competition balanced Mr. Trump’s larger-than-life assertions with more grounded and nuanced economic policy positions. Notably, Senator Rubio framed his vision for the country in terms of his personal experiences as the child of immigrants and a parent:

“I didn’t inherit any money. My dad was a bartender; my mother was a maid. They worked hard to provide us the chance at a better life. They didn’t save enough money for us to go to school. I had to work my way through school. I had to borrow money to go to school. I tried, early in my marriage, explaining to my wife why someone named Sallie Mae was taking $1,000 out of our bank account every month… it’s one of the reasons why my tax plan is a pro- family tax plan. It increases the per child tax credit, because I didn’t read about this in a book. I know for a fact how difficult it is to raise children, how expensive it’s become for working families. And I make a lot more than the average American. Imagine how hard it is for these people out there that are making 40, 50, $60,000 a year, and they’re trying to provide for their families at a time when this economy is not growing.”

Despite straight talk from Senator Rubio, Governor Kasich and others on economic issues facing all Americans, including mentions of investing in workforce development and training programs, we have yet to see significant time and attention paid to city priorities. Tax-exempt municipal bonds, Community Development Block Grants, and new market tax credits were conspicuously absent from the dialogue. All that has cities saying, “Close, but no cigar.” For the November 10 debate in Milwaukee, which will also focus on the economy, NLC urges debate moderators and candidates to let cities lead by discussing economic issues from a local perspective.

About the Author: Devon Hawkins-Anderson is the 2016 National Urban Fellow at National League of Cities. Contact Devon at anderson@nlc.org.