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US Presidential Election: Fourth Republican Debate showed Republican candidates are unprepared for a general election fought over the economy - by Jamelle Bouie

There are a few things we can get out of the way about Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate. First, after months of decline, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had his first great night, challenging Sen. Marco Rubio on tax expenditures and defense spending, pushing Donald Trump on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and stepping into his father’s role as the libertarian gadfly in the race.

 “If you’re a profligate spender and you spend money in an unlimited fashion for the military, is that a conservative notion?” Paul asked in his closing statement. “We have to be conservative with all spending, domestic spending and welfare spending. I’m the only fiscal conservative on the stage.”

The GOP contenders were out of step with the actual economic needs of ordinary Americans. Each candidate talked about relief for workers and families, but outside of Rubio’s child tax credit, few offered it. Instead, candidates came out against raising the minimum wage, called for a new gold standard for currency, and pushed plans for massive upper-income tax cuts. Unlike the first Democratic debate—when Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee tussled over college affordability and health care costs—there was little in the Republican debate that spoke to the challenges of ordinary people rather than businesses.*

Read more: Republican candidates aren’t prepared to argue over the economy in a general election: The GOP fourth debate revealed how little they understand about everyday economic issues.

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