With the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, Tuesday’s debate had nine leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination trying to prove who could keep Americans safe from jihadi terrorists and porous borders.
At center stage were flamboyant billionaire businessman Donald Trump, with a strong first-place standing in national polls, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, with a slight lead in Iowa heading into the state’s all-important caucuses, and Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned retired neurosurgeon who entered the debate third in national polls. Media have deemed each an “outsider” taking on the Republican “establishment,” but the debate revealed little serious distinctions among the foreign policies of the nine.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has consistently stood out in debates, held his own and will likely hold his place.
Each emphasized the need to make national security the top priority of the White House, though Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul stressed the need to avoid sacrificing civil liberties in pursuit of safety. Unlike the others, he stressed fiscal restraint even in pursuit of national safety.
For former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Paul, the debate was a long-shot opportunity to move into one of the top two positions before the race becomes a state-by-state reality check in the form of primaries and caucuses. All nine had relatively strong showings, and none committed gaffes, meaning the debate may leave Tuesday’s pre-debate pecking order in place.
Bush again failed to showcase energy and strength. Paul appeared weaker than his opponents on the need to make safety a top priority, and each should consider suspending their campaigns.
Trump tried to distinguish himself with a concept of using the brightest American minds to cut off access that terrorists in other countries have to the Internet.
Carson, widely considered a man too kind to serve as president, was questioned about his ability to be ruthless and kill foreign children with carpet bombings.
“Ruthless is not necessarily the word I would use, but tough, resolute, understanding what the problems are and understanding that the job of the president of the United States is to protect the people of this country and to do what is necessary to get it done,” Carson said, generating resounding applause.
In a contest to determine who could be toughest, Christie assured moderator Hugh Hewitt he would shoot down any Russian plane that violated a no-fly zone, especially if Russian leaders were to mistake him as the same kind of “feckless weakling that we have in the Oval Office right now.”
“If you want World War III, I think you have your candidate,” Paul shot back.
The debate probably did not help Republicans decide which candidate would be best at keeping us safe. That’s because the leading contenders, in terms of consistent polling results, were all pretty good.
It is an enviable problem for a party that will likely take on Hillary Clinton, who is helplessly associated with questionable foreign policies that have left Americans feeling vulnerable. If Republicans focus on safety from foreign threats, they may find themselves in a strong position in 2016 with any of the candidates leading in the polls today.
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