Political News

Science and The 2016 Iowa Republican Debate

By Matt Johnson

Science policy? The 2016 Iowa Republican Debate? If you are a liberal, then you are probably assuming that the Iowa debate was just another meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Not so fast, Kennedy! You might be surprised. Here are some highlights from last night’s debate that involved science policy.

Climate Change

Look, it’s no secret that Republican politicians from the local to the federal level have opposed climate change. However, Rubio has provided a glimmer of optimism with respect to climate change as a science policy.

Although he emphatically denied ever supporting cap-and-trade when questioned and challenged on the subject by Fox News debate mediator Megyn Kelly, he didn’t actually go out of his way to deny climate change. As he exclaimed in the debate

I have never supported cap-and-trade. [And] I do not believe we have to destroy our economy to protect our environment.

These are not the words of a man who is looking to mimic the words of previous Republican presidential candidates. And although Kelly didn’t follow-up with any questions, which would have provided the audience with a more in-depth exploration of the subject matter and possibly some alternative science policies, Rubio didn’t volunteer any “No! Climate change does not exist!” nor did he accuse the left of propagating climate change for some sort leftist agenda. But then again, science isn’t science without dissent and discourse, is it?


Bush, Cruz, and Paul addressed this issue. In the case of Bush, it was about accessibility and health services to veterans; in the case of Cruz, it was about repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare); and in the case of Paul, it was about making abortions a states’ rights issue.

For Bush, it was the responsibility of the United States government to take care of its warriors. He proposed holding administrators accountable, providing better and more access to care, and giving veterans the opportunity to access healthcare outside of the VA system, which would allow for a greater number of choices. He also touched on the issue of veterans’ homelessness.

For Cruz, he not only reaffirmed his commitment to repeal every word of Obamacare, but he was also questioned with what he would replace it with? As Cruz retorted, his healthcare reform would accomplish three things:

  1. allow people to purchase insurance across state lines
  2. expand health savings accounts
  3. and work to de-link health insurance from employment

In regards to the question of what he would do for people with no healthcare? He didn’t provide an answer.

And finally, for Paul, it was the question of abortion versus states’ rights. When pressed on the issue, he made it extremely clear that the repeal of Roe v. Wade would provide an opportunity for the states to address the issue. He also noted that reducing abortions was a good thing. However, he wasn’t challenged nor did he go out of his way to say that abortions should be illegal all together.

Energy and Natural Resources

If you’ve been following Iowa politics, then you know that Governor Branstad publicly stated that he would not endorse Senator Cruz. This is because Cruz has called to end ethanol subsidies. And so Cruz, with Branstad in attendance for the debate, was asked about the issue. He replied that all energies need to be developed: nuclear, oil, coal, wind, solar, etc… As he made clear, this planet has an abundance of natural resources. But he also insisted that he wants a fair and level playing field for all energy industries. The government should not be involved in picking winners and losers.

Following suit, Carson noted that he was against government intervention and agreed on providing a level playing field. He stated that Americans should take advantage of renewables and develop new forms of energy. He also said that 70 percent of the population lives bicoastally and should take advantage of the adjacent natural resources in the form of water.

Final Thoughts

Something to consider, Rubio was the only one asked about climate change. In his brief exchange with Megyn Kelly, no other candidate chimed in or felt the need to challenge or agree with Rubio. And this was the case for Cruz and Carson when they both exclaimed that alternative energies ought to be developed.

And finally, I realize that many Republican candidates in the past have denied climate change and biological evolution during these presidential debates. Indeed they are often mocked by their friends on the left for such positions and accused of being card-carrying members of the Flat Earth Society. But in last night’s debate, none of that happened and I think that’s a really good sign, especially for science policy, maybe?

For more on the topic of the 2016 Presidential race, you are invited to read 2016 Presidential Race: Rand Paul with Chris Matthews and 2016 Presidential Race: Bernie Sanders with Katie Couric.

**Remember, there is nothing more American than discourse. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated!




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