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August 23, 2023

Will there be any interesting or surprising crime and punishment discussion at tonight's first GOP debate?

Issues of crime and punishment (and drug policies) have gotten a little play in the early days of the 2024 campaign, but tonight's scheduled GOP debate would be a high-profile opportunity for a candidate to say something notable about crime and punishment issues.  In this vein, I have seen one press piece and one lengthy substack entry flagging criminal justice issues in the run-up to the debate:

From the Washington Examiner, "Up for Debate: Trump, DeSantis, and 2024 GOP hopefuls' stance on crime"

From The Watch (by Radley Balko), "My questions for the GOP candidates: Here's what I'd ask the also-rans at Wednesday's Trumpless debate"

I like a number of Radley Balko's questions, but he fails to suggest asking the GOP candidates about former Prez Trump's signature criminal justice reform achievement, the First Step Act.  Here is one version of a question I would love to see asked on that front:

President Donald Trump helped push the sweeping federal criminal justice reform, the First Step Act, through a GOP-controlled Congress in 2018.  In part because of that legislation (as well as pandemic developments that led to Trump's Justice Department placing thousand more defendants on home confinement), the federal prison population decreased almost 20%, dropping from about 190,000 total federal inmates in January 2017 to just over 150,000 in January 2021.  With the benefit of hindsight, do you view these laws and related developments to be a part of President Trump's record that he should be especially proud of, or do you think this is a part of his record that you would be eager to reverse?

I am fairly certain this question will not be asked, but the efforts by some of the candidates to throw shade on Prez Trump's work on the First Step Act would make for an interesting discussion.  Here is hoping that at least something interesting will happen during the GOP debate, though I am not holding my breath.

Some prior related posts:

August 23, 2023 at 05:47 PM | Permalink


Here's a question that actually gets to the point: "Do you think your community is safer when serious criminals -- for example, hard drug dealers, carjackers, con artists preying on old people, and rapists -- are in prison or are left out on the street?"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2023 11:59:42 PM

No, Bill, that is not the point I am seeking to explore. I am seeking to explore whether other GOP candidates support or oppose what former Prez Trump actually did on federal CJ reform/prison issues while in office. The top person in the polls behind Trump, Gov DeSantis, has criticized the First Step Act (though he voted for a prior version of it). It would be useful to know the views of the other candidates on actual federal reforms and developments.

Posted by: Doug B | Aug 24, 2023 12:12:11 AM

Doug --

Yours would have been a fair question, but is too far down in the weeds for a debate like this. My question is also a fair question, and because of its broader reach, had a better chance of getting asked.

I didn't see anything in the debate that should give good cheer to the criminal justice reform crowd. Not surprisingly, those who want softer sentencing will be sticking with Joe regardless of who the Rs nominate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 24, 2023 1:35:04 PM

Bill and Doug, greetings! I wish that the following question would have been asked:

"Do you think your community would be safer if you elect as President of the United States and chief law enforcement officer of the land (and role model for your children and grandchildren) a four-times indicted and twice impeached former president?"

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 24, 2023 1:56:39 PM

That Ukraine impeachment is looking weaker by the day: https://redstate.com/nick-arama/2023/08/24/wh-counsel-gets-wrecked-n2162995

Posted by: federalist | Aug 24, 2023 2:52:15 PM

At the debate Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy, Doug Burgum, Ron DeSantis, and Mike Pence raised their hands, saying they would support Trump as the party's nominee – even if he was convicted of any of the crimes with with he his charged (91 counts, I think). That's what I've been telling my clients for years: being a convicted felon is not such a bad thing; you can even still become President of the U.S!!

Posted by: anon12 | Aug 25, 2023 9:35:39 AM

anon12, whatever convictions there are won't be tested by appeals.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2023 9:59:52 AM

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