Between Donald Trump’s insults, Rand Paul’s selfies and Jeb Bush's "anchor babies," the crowded race for the GOP presidential nomination is providing plenty of fodder for the headlines.
And if tonight’s second Republican debate on CNN is anything like the first, viewers should expect to see more of a boxing match than a detailed discourse on the issues.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Sure, it's entertaining television, but the one-liners and big personalities make it hard to know where exactly the presidential candidates stand on personal finance issues—key topics like taxes, health care and student loan debt.
And at the end of the day, it’s the economy, stupid: A spring Gallup survey showed Americans ranked the economy as their top concern at the polls.
So in honor of tonight’s main event, we’ve pulled together a cheat sheet on the 11 featured Republican contenders (listed accorded to CNN's rankings) to show you their stances—so far—on five key issues, with added insight from political pundits.
And be sure to look for our second installment on the Democratic candidates next month—in time for their October 13 debate.
1. Donald Trump
The real estate tycoon turned Republican dark horse turned Republican front-runner is doing so well in the polls that America may just say, "You're hired!"
“He’s polling so far ahead of everyone else, he’s really in a league by himself at this point,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Here's where Trump stands ...
Taxes: Raise taxes on the rich—especially hedge fund managers—to help relieve the middle class. Impose a one-time tax on the wealthiest Americans to help pay down the national debt.
Jobs: No minimum wage increase. Impose tariffs on goods manufactured in China and Mexico to encourage U.S. companies to hire locally.
Health care: Repeal the Affordable Care Act. Has spoken favorably of a single-payer universal health care system in the past. Now advocates for a private system "without the artificial lines around every state."
Student loans: Critical of the federal government profiting off borrowers, but is less focused on refinancing student loans and more focused on creating jobs for recent college grads.
Big-picture economy: Cut government spending to reduce the deficit. Wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and deport undocumented immigrants, saying they have a drag on U.S. taxpayers.
2. Jeb Bush
What political pedigree? The former two-term Florida governor hasn't been the shoo-in candidate many expected he would be because of the Bush name.
Here's where Bush stands ...
Taxes: Proposes having just three individual tax brackets: 28%, 25% and 10%. Also plans to expand the earned income tax credit and get rid of the estate tax and alternative minimum tax.
Jobs: Wants to create 19 million new jobs, although his game plan is light on details. Opposes the federal minimum wage, but is O.K. with a state-level minimum wage.
Health care: Replace the Affordable Care Act with a consumer-driven plan at the state and local levels. He also wants to provide government funding to help cover major medical events for the needy.
Student loans: Calls on colleges to be more accountable for helping students graduate on time—and for helping them choose degrees that lead to employment, so they aren’t piling on student loan debt.
Big-picture economy: Says he'll achieve 4% gross domestic product growth over two terms—a rate that Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution, questions. “I like to be optimistic, but 4% growth for eight years isn't in the ballpark [of possibility],” she says.
“We’ve had Medicare and Medicaid for a long time, and they’re popular programs. It’s hard for me to see anyone getting elected saying they want to overhaul them.”
3. Scott Walker
The second-term Wisconsin governor was unbeatable in his home state—even surviving a recall election—but he's been struggling to make strides on the national stage.
Here's where Walker stands ...
Taxes: He says more details are to come, but Walker has called for returning federal tax rates to Reagan-era levels, when the top rate was 33%.
Jobs: Walker and unions are like oil and water. As governor, he passed legislation that curbed the ability of public-sector workers to bargain collectively—and pushed for right-to-work laws that barred workplaces from requiring union dues.
Health care: Repeal the Affordable Care Act and provide tax credits to Americans at all income levels who don't have employer-sponsored insurance.
Student loans: Favors giving universities incentives to keep tuition down. As governor, let student-loan refinancing laws fall by the wayside.
Big-picture economy: Dismantle big government’s involvement in areas like education, transportation, infrastructure and Medicaid. According to Baker, that last goal could prove to be problematic for Walker. “We’ve had Medicare and Medicaid for a long time, and they’re efficient, popular programs,” Baker says. “It’s hard for me to see anyone getting elected saying they want to overhaul them.”
4. Ben Carson
This former pediatric neurosurgeon—known for being the first physician to separate twins joined at the head—is a true political outsider. Despite this, the ultraconservative candidate has experienced a quiet surge as of late.
Here's where Carson stands ...
Taxes: Wants a flat-tax system in which every American would pay the same rate, between 10% and 15%.
Jobs: No clear plan yet other than to say jobs will come with economic growth. Was quick to say that he had served on corporate boards after Trump criticized him for having no experience in creating jobs.
Health care: Once called the Affordable Care Act “the worst thing to happen to this nation since slavery.” Proposes giving every American $2,000 a year to add to a health savings account.
Student loans: Opposed President Barack Obama’s plan calling for two free years of community college, noting that Pell grants already assist poor students. Emphasizes taking personal responsibility for college costs through hard work.
Big-picture economy: Ratify a balanced budget amendment. Revive the Glass-Steagall Act, which would force big banks to separate their investment and commercial banking practices. The latter is a typically Democratic stance, but as Baker notes, “there are substantial segments within the Republican party who are anti-Wall Street."
5. Ted Cruz
The first-term Texas senator is a Tea Party favorite, but “he’s had the most air taken out of his balloon by Trump, who's very similar to Cruz in his extreme views,” Kamarck says.
Here's where Cruz stands ...
Taxes: He has big plans, like abolishing the IRS, cutting corporate taxes to 15% and establishing an unspecified flat individual income tax that still allows for a large standard deduction for lower income earners.
Jobs: His position: Raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. A strong oil and gas industry will create them.
Health care: Introduced legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Supports allowing people to buy insurance across state lines.
Student loan debt: Voted against legislation to allow student loan refinancing, and believes student loans should be controlled by states.
Big-picture economy: Supports a balanced-budget amendment. Wants to privatize Social Security and eliminate the Department of Energy. Cruz introduced the American Energy Renaissance Act—legislation that would deregulate and expand domestic energy production.
6. Marco Rubio
Obey your thirst? That's what rising conservative star Rubio did during his infamous water-bottle moment in 2013, when he took a big swig while giving the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address.
Kamarck says, “Rubio is not as much a red-meat Republican as some of the other [candidates], but his up-and-comer status could get him on the ticket."
Here's where Rubio stands ...
Taxes: Wants just two brackets—15% and 35%. Would get rid of estate, capital gains and dividend taxes—as well as institute a new, $2,500-per-child tax credit.
Jobs: Says they will come with economic growth and higher-education reform. Also advocates for more vocational training and for expanding apprentice programs.
Health care: Wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with tax credits that will help people buy health insurance.
Student loans: Supports income-based repayment, as well as “pay it forward” plans that allow individuals or organizations to provide students with money for school. In exchange, after graduation the student agrees to pay back a portion of their income for a set number of years.
Big-picture economy: Says he will balance the federal budget within 10 years, instituting across-the-board spending cuts—save for defense. Also plans to deregulate small businesses.
7. Mike Huckabee
The Southern Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor has made a name for himself by regularly making the TV rounds as a conservative talking head.
Here's where Huckabee stands ...
Taxes: Huckabee hearts tax reform—and wants to eliminate corporate and individual income taxes, replacing them with a 23% federal sales tax that he dubs the FairTax. But Baker notes that likely won't sit well with modest-income voters. “Do people earning $40,000 a year really want to pay 23% on everything they buy?” he asks.
Jobs: Believes his tax plan will help bring offshore jobs back to the U.S.
Health care: Repeal the Affordable Care Act and let states “road-test” health care reform, although he hasn't provided details on what exactly that means.
Student loans: Thinks students should be able to refinance all of their loans—like mortgages and car loans—to take advantage of low interest rates.
Big-picture economy: Did we say "tax plan" already? Says FairTax will stimulate economic growth, and provide enough money to fund Medicare and Social Security.
8. Rand Paul
The former ophthalmologist, Kentucky senator and neo-libertarian has “gotten sidelined by the Trump phenomena, but he does represent a small but important faction of the Republican Party,” Kamarck says.
Here's where Paul stands ...
Taxes: Wants to institute a flat tax of 14.5% on ordinary income, increase the standard deduction to $15,000 and offer a personal exemption of $5,000 per person. Paul also wants to lower the rate on capital gains and dividend income to 14.5%.
RELATED: Tax Brackets, Explained
Jobs: Blames big government for high unemployment rates. Wants to deregulate the oil and gas industry to create more jobs.
Health care: Replace the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts.
Student loans: Make college tuition and student loan debt fully tax deductible—and nix the Department of Education.
Big-picture economy: Plans to aggressively cut federal spending, raise the Social Security eligibility age and privatize Medicare. Also once proposed that bankrupt or economically distressed cities become “Economic Freedom Zones” that offer tax breaks for residents and businesses alike.
“She’s like Trump. She's not a career politician, so her business record is going to be looked at carefully—and she may have problems there."
9. John Kasich
A former investment banker, nine-term congressman and second-term Ohio governor, “[Kasich is] probably the best-qualified person in the race,” Kamarck says.
Here's where Kasich stands ...
Taxes: Cut corporate and individual income taxes—and impose a flat personal-income tax. As governor, Kasich supported increasing sales taxes to help pay for income tax cuts.
Jobs: Opposes raising the minimum wage, and as governor was against expanding unemployment compensation.
Health care: Wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with a market-driven system, but stirred some controversy when he expanded Medicaid in Ohio—a provision of Obamacare. “Given Obamacare was there, he said he would take advantage of it," Baker says.
Student loans: As governor, proposed a 2% cap on annual tuition increases, and $120 million in college debt relief to help graduates of Ohio's public colleges.
Big-picture economy: Big on a balanced budget. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, helped write the nation's most-recent balanced federal budget in the late 1990s.
10. Chris Christie
Second-term New Jersey governor whose campaign may have been hurt early on by Bridgegate—and who's now contending with a bout of falling job-approval ratings.
Here's where Christie stands ...
Taxes: Wants three tax brackets, with top rate at 28%—and would cut the corporate tax rate to 25%. Also wants to cap total amount of deductions and credits that individuals or married couples can take.
Jobs: Use corporate tax incentives to grow jobs.
Health care: Repeal the Affordable Care Act, but hasn't offered details yet on a replacement plan.
Student loans: Supports boosting federal grant programs, income-share agreements and “pay it forward” plans with employers.
Big-picture economy: Rein in government spending and reform entitlement programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. Plus, Christie wants to raise the full retirement age for Social Security to 69. Baker's take: “For seniors who have nothing but Social Security to support themselves, that’s like a 12% cut in benefits—and a big hit for a group that’s not wealthy."
11. Carly Fiorina
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the first female to run a Fortune 20 company, Fiorina unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2010.
“She’s like Trump," Kamarck says. "She's not a career politician, so her business record is going to be looked at carefully—and she may have some problems there."
Here's where Fiorina stands ...
Taxes: Simplify the tax code, eliminating the estate tax and capital gains taxes on small-business investments.
Jobs: Let states set the minimum wage and give small business the freedom to grow and create jobs.
Health care: Repeal the Affordable Care Act and let the federal government subsidize state-run insurance programs for the most needy.
Student loans: They should be a competitive business—not a government “racket."
Big-picture economy: Big believer in “zero-based budgeting,” which would force federal agencies to justify their budgets fresh every year rather than build on prior-year funding. Says deregulation will grow small businesses.
Don't forget to look for our next article on the Democratic contenders in October.