The second Republican presidential debate aired Wednesday, and the discussion largely steered clear of education and manufacturing — topics that have been the focus of political conversation in Michigan in recent months.
Aaron Kall, director of the University’s debate program, said though a question on manufacturing made a brief appearance in the earlier JV debate, the prime time show was dictated by current events like the Iran Deal and the Syrian refugee crisis.
However, Kall said the discussion could circle back to topics like higher education and skilled trades down the road. He cited former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s support for Common Core as having the potential to open a conversation about education.
Wednesday’s debate did solicit responses on criminal justice and marijuana use — subjects Kall said may particularly interest students. He noted that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is particularly popular among young people, largely due to his libertarian leanings.
Though Michigan’s presidential primaries are still several months away, Kall said Ohio Gov. John Kasich is likely one of the more popular candidates among Michigan voters.
Kasich is generally known as one of the more moderate candidates and is often seen as someone who would employ a similar approach to governance as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. During his time in office, Snyder has mostly steered clear of policymaking around social issues, focusing more intently on areas like job training and economic policy.
Kall said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker might not have the same pull, given his geographic distance from the majority of Michigan voters and his more conservative leanings.
“Kasich will have a much more ripe opportunity based on geography and the way he’s built his strategy,” he said.
With such a large Republican field, Kall said Michigan could play a bigger role in the nominating process than in previous cycles.
“The longer it drags on, then the more important states that are later in the process become,” he said.
Public Policy senior Cody Giddings, chair of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is the most popular candidate among University College Republicans, according to a straw poll conducted by the group earlier this week.
“From my personal perspective, the large field is an advantage because it allows our organization to include an extremely diverse set of political beliefs from around campus. This political diversity allows us all to foster intellectual and constructive debate surrounding very important policy issues that our nation faces in the coming years.
Giddings said the group’s straw poll also showed foreign policy is a central area of interest among the University’s College Republicans, and Wednesday’s debate covered that topic extensively.
“Initially, I felt the topics of the discussion surrounding Donald Trump were unbecoming of a debate to nominate a presidential candidate,” he said. “Fortunately the debate shifted to a more professional policy setting in which, in my mind, foreign policy played a large role.”
As for who won the debate, Giddings said he thinks it was Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.
“Carly Fiorina without a doubt won that debate,” he said. “Fiorina’s incredible display of technical policy knowledge was something I was extremely happy to see as a young Republican who has felt that debate surrounding actual policy is something that has been seriously lacking in the race for 2016 so far. I would give Marco Rubio the second place slot, he demonstrated his foreign affairs knowledge very articulately and with a conviction that many like myself had been waiting to see from him.”
Giddings said he has yet to see the appeal of Trump, however.
“Donald Trump has impacted discussion in every single political organization across the nation and our organization is no exception,” he said.
While millions of people around the country tuned in to CNN on Wednesday evening, the University’s chapter of the College Democrats held their weekly meeting instead.
“We didn’t watch the debates at College Democrats,” said Public Policy senior Max Lerner, the group’s chair. “We had our executive board meeting and we weren’t going to let the Republican debate slow down our progress to get the word out about what Democrats are doing to try and improve this country and try and improve Michigan.”
Still, Lerner said he was able to watch the beginning of the debate and felt the focus on Republican candidate Donald Trump has been overblown, whereas issues pertaining to income equality and higher education were not mentioned.
“Republicans don’t want to talk about higher ed because just look at what they’ve done in Michigan, huge cuts to higher ed under Republican governors and a Republican legislature,” Lerner said. “That’s not just in Michigan, but that’s all across the country. Democrats are going to keep on fighting for students.”