A funny thing happened about two-thirds of the way through last night’s GOP presidential debate: actual policy was discussed! It all started with the talk about what to do about the Middle East and whether the U.S. should be Team America. That talk was really interesting, and people should go back and listen or at least read the transcript. But things really got amped up when Jake Tapper asked Senator Rand Paul a question about drug policy.

It sparked a really interesting discussion between Paul and Jeb Bush over medical marijuana and cannabis oil, and what should happen to people arrested on drug charges.

Chris Christie also got into the discussion with Paul on medical marijuana, which then spiraled into talk on what the 10th Amendment actually means.

PAUL: Understand what they’re saying. if they’re going to say we are going to enforce the federal law against what the state law is, they aren’t really believing in the Tenth Amendment.
Governor Christie would go into Colorado, and if you’re breaking any federal law on marijuana, even though the state law allows it, he would put you in jail. If a young mother is trying to give her child cannabis oil for medical marijuana for seizure treatment, he would put her in jail, if it violates federal law.

I would let Colorado do what the Tenth Amendment says. This power — we were never intended to have crime dealing at the federal level. Crime was supposed to be left to the states. Colorado has made their decision. And I don’t want the federal government interfering and putting moms in jail, who are trying to get medicine for their kid…

CHRISTIE: And Senator Paul knows that that’s simply not the truth.

In New Jersey, we have medical marijuana laws, which I supported and implemented. This is not medical marijuana. There’s goes as much — a further step beyond. This is recreational use of marijuana.
This is much different. And so, while he would like to use a sympathetic story to back up his point, it doesn’t work. I’m not against medical marijuana. We do it in New Jersey. But I’m against the recreational use against marijuana.

If he wants to change the federal law, get Congress to pass the law to change it, and get a president to sign it.

This is awesome policy discussion and shows differences between the candidates and whether mass incarceration is a good idea or bad idea. Carly Fiorina picked up on it with her horrific story about the death of her step-daughter, the dangers of drugs, whether states should make their own drug laws, and the policy discussion was off to the races. Suddenly, Hugh Hewitt asked Jeb Bush about guns and just how far states should pry into peoples’ private lives. The discussion gave Marco Rubio one of his best chances to shine.

RUBIO: There’s a broader issue here, Hugh. And there’s a broader issue here as well.

First of all, the only people that follow the law are law-abiding people. Criminals by definition ignore the law, so you can pass all the gun laws in the world, like the left wants. The criminals are going to ignore it because they are criminals.

Here’s the real issue.

The real issue — the real issue is not what are people using to commit violence, but why are they committing the violence? And here’s the truth: Because you cannot separate the social, moral wellbeing of your people from their economic and other wellbeing. You cannot separate it.

You can’t have a strong country without strong people, you cannot have strong people without strong values, and you cannot have strong values without strong families and the institutions in this country that defend and support those families.

The talk then turned to entitlement reform and what was going to happen to Social Security, then to vaccinations and whether or not there should be mandates or whether parents should have leeway. It was a fun discussion, which honestly got the policy geek in me jonesing for more. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it was nice to see an actual discussion of ideas and what makes the Republican Party the Republican Party … or allegedly does. These debates should be about policy because there are a whole host of issues which are just as important as what goes on along the southern border.

And the best part? Donald Trump wasn’t really involved. He’d been shut down by Jeb Bush over the legacy of George W. Bush, then faced the tag team of Rand Paul and Ben Carson over vaccines and the bizarre theory they cause autism. It was nice to see what happens when candidates who have actual political positions outside of, “I’ll create something great!” and “Our leadership sucks!” get to discuss policy. It should happen more often, but won’t because presidential elections aren’t about policy. They’re about popularity. It’s all about how good a candidate sounds, looking presidential, and how many one liners can be delivered in a single debate.

This is not to say that the parties should just nominate a bunch of Al Gore personality clones, because presidential elections haven’t been about policy since the JFK-Nixon debate of 1960. But it was still nice to hear the opinion of candidates when the focus was off Trump. It’s just too bad that talk didn’t get started until over halfway through the debate, when people were probably hoping the thing would just end. Maybe the next debate will have more policy and less bloviating. It won’t, but one can always hope.