In the first Republican debate, the candidates were so excited to be there that they forgot to talk about Wall Street. In the second debate, they got a little distracted by the huge plane parked behind them and also by that time JEB! got high in the 70s.
But (because life is dark and full of sadness) there is always another chance at a first Wall Street debate.
CNBC hosted all the candidates at a third debate in Boulder, Colorado last night and billed the event as "Your Money, Your Vote: The Presidential Debate on the Economy." It seemed that come hell or high water there would be a real conversation about Wall Street this time. After all, these are the people who employ Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer, so CNBC knows how to wrangle maniacs on television.
Well, funny story...
And that pretty much sums up the whole deal.
When asked a question about the debt limit, Ted Cruz used his time to go apesh!t on CNBC. Invoking "Mensheviks" (something you don't hear a lot in most Republican debates) and accusing the CNBC moderators of being liberal agents sent to destroy the GOP on live TV... or at least on CNBC.
Carly Fiorina tried a new thing called smiling. Donald Trump bragged about how he carries a concealed gun on the streets of New York sometimes because he likes to keep people on their toes. Ted Cruz offered to go "sharesies" on some pot brownies with moderator Carl Quintanilla. Mike Huckabee bragged about his fancy "Trump Collection" tie while Chris Christie almost popped a blood vessel when asked about fantasy football gambling.
And then there was JEB!... oh, JEB!
But remember how this was supposed to be about money and, like, economic policy?
Well, according to the Washington Post's transcript of the debate, the phrase "Wall Street" was uttered nine times, "Finance" was said four times, "Investment" was said thrice and "Hedge fund" was invoked just once, half as many times as "Benghazi."
The word "(Crosstalk)" - which denotes everyone shouting incoherently at each other - appears 56 times in the WaPo transcript.
Admittedly, there was some talk of the Fed, a bit of a dive into income inequality, and a very spirited bit of Social Security-related nonsense between Christie and Huckabee, but the financial sector once again failed to get much airtime because the whole thing was such a circus.
A lot of the blame falls at the feet of the CNBC moderators, who did not do themselves any favors by engaging in squabbles with candidates that seemed dead-set on making the evening as painful as possible for their hosts. It was tough to talk Dodd-Frank when even Trump was taking issue with fact checking on some of the questions.
For long stretches, the CNBC debate was literally about the danger poised to America by CNBC.
But the two guys with arguably the most to gain by discussing Wall Street - John Kasich and Marco Rubio - managed to get in a few comments that were designed to endear them to the financial sector as the race begins to tighten.
In an exchange with Donald Trump that began with Trump alleging that he was a board member of pre-crisis Lehman Brothers, Kasich tried to thread the needle of reality by simultaneously correcting the Donald and retaining his self-created image of a blue-collar Washington outsider.
Here's what he came up with:
"I wasn't on the board of Lehman Brothers. I was a banker and I was proud of it. And I traveled the country and learned how people made jobs."
While Kasich should probably get an award for coining the most adorably vague description of bankers in the history of time, he should definitely work on his messaging. It's hard to sell yourself as a Regular American Joe when you've already been a nine-term congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee, a managing director at Lehman Brothers and hosted your own TV show on Fox News for 6 years.
In fact, if Kasich wants pointers on how to come off as relatable but pro-bank, he need look no farther than Rubio.
After sunnily copping to the fact that he is by far the least wealthy GOP candidate and had to use a $1 million book advance to bail himself out of personal debt, Rubio instantly grabbed the populist crown from his competitors. He then went on to spend a significant amount of debate time pitching woo to Wall Street.
Rubio's tax plan (which proved to be a real point of contention between him and moderator John Harwood) comes off like a Wall Street MASH note when compared to the overwhelmingly anti-finance tone adopted by most candidates from both parties so far into this election cycle.
The Rubio plan makes taxes on capital gains and dividends a thing of the past. And, as if that isn't enough to make investment bankers swoon, Rubio also wants to take care of the taxes estates.
But watch him sell it:
We are lowering taxes on small business. You know, a lot of business activity in America is conducted like the guy that does my dry cleaning. He's an S corporation. He pays on his personal rate, and he is paying higher than the big dry-cleaning chain down the street, because he's paying at his personal rate.
Because who benefits more from eliminating capital gains than a small Floridian dry cleaner?
Spin on, Marco!
"[I]t is the most pro growth tax plan that I can imagine because it doesn't tax investments at all. You know why? Because the more you tax something, the less of it you get."
Stop crying, CNBC. At least one person paid attention to the "Your Money, Your Vote" part of the invite.