CNBC GOP Debate— What Candidates Need To Say

By Gary Shapiro

Wednesday night’s GOP debate, which will focus on issues related to technology and the economy, will give the 10 leading Republican candidates an opportunity to convince Americans that their ideas are better for creating jobs and growing our nation’s economy.

The first two Republican debates barely touched on jobs. Instead, energy, social and foreign policy issues dominated. And while the Democratic candidates discussed jobs in their first debate, the policies they heralded would reduce American jobs, nearly double the minimum wage, perpetuate innovation-stifling unions, raise taxes, increase the deficit and expand litigation choking businesses by allowing employees to sue if they receive lower pay than someone with a comparable job.

Both parties are ignoring big changes in our economy and new job growth opportunities brought on by technology. Wednesday night’s debate can and should enable CNBC and the candidates a chance to focus Americans on the economic opportunity and promise of technology.

Here are five questions central to the health of our economy that deserve airtime during the debate:

1. Do you support the sharing economy and companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb?

This is an easy one for Republicans. It allows them to appeal to the millions of Americans who love these services and/or make money from them. It also allows them to distinguish themselves from candidates who are too beholden to unions and the status quo. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found 7 percent of Americans are working on sharing platforms — a sector of the economy which the Wall Street Journal calls “a green shoot in a postindustrial age.” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has already said she wants new restrictions on these services.

2. Do you support policies that would encourage high-skilled immigration to the United States?

Research shows that highly-skilled immigrants create jobs. More, most science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduate degrees go to students from abroad whom we train and then kick out of this country. While the candidates may want to focus only on illegal immigration, the tech community is eagerly awaiting candidates’ thoughts on how to retain the best and brightest workers, in order to address our STEM worker shortage.

3. How should we respond to the plague of patent trolls?

Patent trolls practice legal extortion, draining cash from American businesses — mostly small businesses — with vague patent claims. Congress has worked out a solution to the patent troll problem, introducing bipartisan legislation to fix our broken patent system, by discouraging trolls from filing frivolous lawsuits, helping small businesses fight back and making sure that inventors who need to defend their property rights in court can do so without any extra roadblocks. Republican presidential candidates should offer their full support for this legislation, which would help American businesses innovate and grow.

4. How can government ease barriers to creating startups?

This type of open-ended question will give each candidate an opportunity to discuss his or her view of the proper role of government, whether it’s lower taxes; changes in education; or decrying our current state of over-regulation, unionization and Obama administration push for mandated overtime for anyone making less than $50,000 a year.

5. What distinguishes Republicans and Democrats on economic issues?

This question would not only reveal basic political philosophies and differences, but would also give Republicans an opportunity to appeal to traditional Democratic constituencies. A Republican message of choice will resonate with the American majority.

Republicans support choice in doctors and health care savings accounts, choice in schools, choice for workers on whether to join unions, choice in whom to hire for government construction projects, judicial discretion in sentencing for nonviolent crimes and choice of service providers — be it taxicabs or Uber, hotels or Airbnb.

Wednesday night is an opportunity for Republicans to establish the party as the party of choice and pro-innovation, pro-job economic policies. Americans expect the standard “lower taxes, less regulation” mantra, but Republican candidates should step up their game and talk about how businesses prosper and create jobs and can do so at a time of rapid innovation. In this new innovation-driven economy, government must avoid old paradigms setting restrictive work rules, encouraging litigation and denying the opportunities for Americans to benefit from this dynamic new economy.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro