The question Carly Fiorina didn't answer
Should state governments levy new sales taxes on Internet shopping transactions? That's the question CNBC's Carl Quintanilla put to Fiorina, who largely avoided answering with a long diatribe against crony capitalism and socialism. But with a single line, the former HP chief executive did hint at her ongoing opposition to the idea, which stands to provide states with huge amounts of new tax revenue.
"Government trying to level the playing field between Internet and brick-and-mortar [retailers] creates a problem," Fiorina said.
A shoutout to net neutrality
"The FCC jumping in now and saying, 'we're going to put 400 pages of regulation over the Internet,' is going to create massive problems," Fiorina continued in the next breath.
Sharp readers will recognize that line as a shot at the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, which aim to keep Internet providers from slowing down Web sites for financial gain. From her remarks, it's safe to assume that Fiorina takes a similar position to former Florida governor Jeb Bush in that she would seek to eliminate those regulations if elected.
Like many on both the right and left, Fiorina views government as a tool of big, wealthy interests, and she blames the net neutrality policy on wealthy Internet companies that lobbied for them. (They did lobby for them, but that’s only part of the picture.)
Do H1-B visas encourage the outsourcing of jobs?
Sen. Marco Rubio was asked to defend his stance on immigration, an issue that's near and dear to Silicon Valley. Rubio wants to expand the number of H1-B visas given out to high-skilled foreign workers, but CNBC's John Harwood pointed out that that plan could lead employers to "undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans."
That's a critique not just on the right, but also from the left. By way of response, Rubio said he'd ban any company from ever using the H1-B program again if firms were caught simply taking advantage of it to fill their ranks.
"The ideal scenario is to train Americans to do the work so we don't have to rely on people from abroad," he said.
Who had the bigger gaffe on immigration, Trump or CNBC?
CNBC's Becky Quick tried to nail Donald Trump for criticizing Mark Zuckerberg's call for more H1-B visas. Trump denied the claim, saying "I never said that." In fact, his campaign Web site singled out Zuckerberg's relationship with Rubio, calling the lawmaker Zuckerberg's "personal senator" while also offering a number of proposals to restrict H1-Bs.
Wednesday night, though, Trump said he was in favor of "people coming into this country legally. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want."
Worker benefits and the sharing economy
Part-time workers often lack the same workplace benefits that full-time employees get. So, asked CNBC, should the government encourage retirement saving among "workers at small businesses, and the growing ranks of Uber drivers and other part-timers in the freelance economy"?
This was a question that virtually set up the answer before it was done. Fiorina leapt to say that the government should play no role in setting up 401k-type plans for part-time workers.
"Look, every time the federal government gets engaged in something it gets worse," Fiorina said.
But a more enlightening question might have been whether the candidates thought part-time workers deserved the same benefits as full-time workers, which would have shed more light on the candidates' ethical perspectives and left it open-ended about the government's role.
Jeb's insta-shutdown on daily fantasy sports
Daily fantasy sports leagues have recently come under scrutiny for basically being a form of gambling. Asked whether the situation requires government intervention, former Florida governor Jeb Bush gave a surprisingly fluid answer, bragging about his own fantasy league record and rattling off the names of a few football players before saying, essentially, yes.
But then Gov. Chris Christie leapt in and indirectly skewered Bush by undercutting the question.
"We have — wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us. And we're talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?" he asked.