The “Prime Time” Republican Primary Debate and the Constitution

Both President Obama and the Supreme Court have been described as “lawless” in respect to the Constitution. That description addresses actions perceived to be outside the authority granted to them by the Constitution.

With such criticisms, what might Americans have to look forward to in respect to the constitutional rule of law in a new administration? Here’s a look at the candidates in the second of the two August 6th Republican “debates”.[1] The nature of the forum limited the candidates, but there was some insight into their views the Constitution. For the constitutional comments from the candidates in the first forum, see The First Republican Debate Group and the Constitution,

Governor HuckabeeGovernor Huckabeee

Governor Huckabee alluded to the difficulties of constitutional amendments on issues with which he disagrees with the Supreme Court: abortion and same sex marriage. He then described his position as “bolder” than the constitutional method for overruling the Supreme Court.

Huckabee proposed imposing his interpretation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments on the issue of abortion. Huckabee has decried the Supreme Court as employing lawless judicial activism. His proposed replacing judicial activism with presidential activism. His thought process seems to consider the president to be the sole arbiter of the Constitutional.

Huckabee’s policy goals are laudable, but his view of presidential power to meet his goals differs little from President Obama’s. They just have different goals. He was on stronger ground when he talked about unconstitutional federal power grabs and called for restoring the powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.

Senator Rand PaulSenator Paul and Governor Christie

Senator Paul and Governor Christie had the only true constitutional discussion of the evening. Christie defended the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs as critical to security. Christie also called for expanding activities like the NSA program and criticized Senator Paul for his opposition to such programs.

Governor Chris ChristieSenator Paul, for his part defended his opposition simply, he cited the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable government searches and seizures. Paul advised Christie of the constitutional approach to such issues: “Get a warrant.”

The eye doctor demonstrated a much better understanding of the Bill of Rights than the former federal prosecutor.

Donald TrumpMr. Trump

Donald Trump, although his comment was largely ignored and contested by Senator Paul, made the single constitutional suggestion for reforming Obamacare. When asked about Obamacare Trump remarked:  “What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state.” He then touched upon the problems in dealing with insurance issues across state lines.

The point of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution is to prevent states from erecting artificial barriers for multistate businesses. Trump’s comment in this area pointed to an element of a solution to health care insurance issues in line with the original purpose of the Constitution.

Senator Marco RubioSenator Rubio

Senator Rubio correctly identified that the states and local government are responsible for education. He also identified why education was not one of the enumerated powers given the federal government by the Constitution:  “…because if a parent is unhappy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to that local school board or their state legislature, or their governor and get it changed.”

Rubio also identified a danger to local control of any power reserved to the states by the misuse of federal spending power to essentially blackmail states: “…what they will begin to say to local communities is, you will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it.” Rubio demonstrated a clear understanding of the limits of federal authority and the purpose of the Tenth Amendment.

Governor Jeb BushGovernor Bush

Governor Bush touched on two constitutional questions, border security and education. On the issue of securing national borders, his position did not seem to recognize the clear constitutional mandate of the federal government in this area. His statement was unclear: “We need to be much more strategic on how we deal with border enforcement, border security.” 

On the question of the federal vs. local role in education, Bush did not demonstrate the strong constitutional preference of Rubio: “…if states want to opt out of Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are high.” It would appear Governor Bush would maintain federal review of state education standards, in an area that there is not constitutional grant of federal authority.

Governor Scott WalkerGovernor Walker

Governor Walker was the only candidate to demonstrate he understood the separation of powers concept built into the Constitution. He was asked about the pending agreement with Iran. His response was refreshing, in that during the debate, the candidates regularly referred to proposed actions as president as “I will” or “I would”. Governor Walker’s response regarding the Iran deal gave deference to the role of Congress: “…reinstate the sanctions authorized by Congress, you go to Congress and put in place even more crippling sanctions in place…”

This was the only recognition by a candidate of the rightful constitutional role of Congress.

Ted_Cruz,_official_portrait,_113th_CongressSenator Cruz

Senator Cruz, in closing discussed his initial actions as president. He would: “…instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations…” and “…instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic)[2] persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” The steps a President Cruz would take all fall within the legitimate constitutional authority of the president.

Unlike Governor Jindal earlier in the day, and Governor Huckabee earlier in this debate Senator Cruz did not follow up his comments with any suggestion that he would implement unconstitutional policies of his own.

Doctor Ben CarsonDr. Carson

Having combed the transcripts carefully, I could not find any comment of Dr. Carson’s that provided any insight into his view of any issue relating directly to the Constitution. The closest may have been his reference to the outward characteristics that human beings possess and how those do not make us different, and as a result people should not be treated differently. He expressed with those thoughts the timeless principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In that regard, Dr. Carson did a service in reminding people of those principles.

Governor_John_KasichGovernor Kasich

Unlike Senator Santorum in the earlier debate, who indicated his intent to oppose the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage, Governor Kasich indicated a deference to the Court although he disagreed with it. “I’m an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage…the court has ruled, and I said we’ll accept it.”  Kasich’s position recognizes the constitutional separation of powers. One might hope a President Kasich would conduct the presidency in line with that recognition.


[1] Check out constitutional considerations and the other seven candidates at: The First Republican Debate Group and the Constitution

[2] Clearly Senator Cruz meant to say “stop”, not “start”.


For Further Reading



  1. […] limited the candidates, but here’s the things each had to say about constitutional issues. Check The Republican “Prime Time” Debate and the Constitution for the constitutional comments in the second […]