It's probably safe to say that the candidates in Tuesday night's non-prime time Republican debate didn't expect to be talking a lot about Democrats (unless you're Chris Christie). They were clearly even less prepared to talk about Democrats they like. They seemed to have readied their usual jabs at each other and even the occasional jab at Hillary Clinton, but when the candidates were asked about working with Democrats in Congress, the candidates quickly deflected and refused to answer the question.
After cutting Rick Santorum off for not answering a question (ironic), moderator Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, asked the four candidates on stage to name their favorite Democratic member of Congress. A tough question, but he made a good point for asking it:
To do the things that you're all talking about — getting things done in Washington — you have to work with the other side. Who in Congress do you most admire on the Democratic side?
Although Seib specifically asked for "one name from each" of the candidates, the candidates had something else in mind entirely. Not one of them actually gave a name, or talked about Democrats in Congress much at all. Rather, they turned it into a free-for-all to say pretty much whatever they wanted.
Bobby Jindal started the trend by immediately trying to discredit Seib's question as "silly." Rather than give a name, Jindal wanted to talk about economy... but then he didn't actually talk about the economy.
We can waste our time — and I think this is why people were so frustrated with the last debate — with these kinds of silly questions. We've only got a certain amount of time to talk about the economy. I want to use my time to say this: I want to fire everybody in D.C., both parties. I think we need to get rid of them all and make them live under the same rules they pass for the rest of us.
For the most part, the other three candidates took Jindal's bait and passed on answering the question as well. Rather than compliment Democrats for something — anything — Mike Huckabee hit them with his best shot. Huckabee turned the attention to veterans, specifically veterans' healthcare.
Well, since we're not going to answer the question, let me just remind everybody, tomorrow is Veterans Day. And here's what I would like to remind everybody: The VA has been a disaster, in large part because the people in Congress have never bothered to fix it, and this president has certainly not... ... What would happen if the Congress and the president had to get their healthcare from the VA? We would fix the problem and we would fix Congress.
Sure, Huckabee brings up a valid issue. But that wasn't question. It wasn't even close to the question.
Not surprisingly, Chris Christie followed suit. Christie hadn't been able to stop talking about Clinton and President Obama all night, blaming them for things left and right, saying that they were a bigger focus to him than his Republican competitors. There's no way Christie was prepared to say anything good about working with Democrats.
I'll continue the pattern ... and just say this to everybody, since it seems to be an open question: I'll tell you that the thing that concerns me the most with what's going on with the Democratic Party in Washington, that they're not standing behind our police officers across this country ... that they're allowing lawlessness to reign in this country. I spent seven years of my life in law enforcement, and here's what every law enforcement, all 700,000 of them, should know tonight: When President Christie is in the oval office, I'll have your back.
Like Huckabee, Christie brings up a valid issue. But he actually refutes the question entirely by talking about what bothers him the most about Democrats. The question, in a way, asked him to talk about what he likes most.
And then there was Santorum. Santorum actually took the time to answer the previous question that Seib had accused him of dodging. (It was about infrastructure and completely irrelevant to the conversation about the Democratic members of Congress.) Once he finished that answer, though, Santorum actually came the closest to answering Seib's initial question with a huge mic boost.
You know why I respect the Democratic Party? Because they fight, Because they're not willing to back down, and they're willing to stand up and fight and win, and so I respect them because they are willing to take it to us.
Santorum definitely didn't answer the question, and he should probably lose some brownie points for not answering his previous question either. But he said he can respect the Democratic Party, so at least there's that. Ultimately, the Republican candidates probably should be answering questions about the economy, about veterans' issues, about law enforcement, and about infrastructure, but they shouldn't do so by dodging a valid question about working together in government.