It was another wild night for the GOP at Thursday’s debate in North Charleston, South Carolina. Candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, currently the front runners in Iowa, gave strong performances. CisternYard caught up with Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson before the debate. “I think Mr. Trump considers everyone in the race an opponent,” said Pierson. “If you look at the polls, obviously Sen. Cruz is coming in second…They’re statistically tied in Iowa” but “Mr. Trump is far ahead in all the other states.” She added that Trump’s greatest strength with young voters will be his ability to create jobs and strengthen the economy. “I think Mr. Trump’s policies being the business man that he is, having the experience with other governments and doing business there, he knows what we need to do to get that back on track.” Marco Rubio, polling in third place, struggled under attacks from Cruz and Chris Christie. Jeb Bush and John Kasich both stood out with moderate responses to questions on Syrian refugees and the economy. Ben Carson continued to promote his common-sense, non-insider approach to politics, amidst falling poll numbers. The biggest issues of the night were security and leadership in the face of global threats like ISIS. The economy and gun control were also prominent topics. In addition to infighting, the candidates repeatedly criticized Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. Read on for a thematic look at Thursday night’s debate.
Commander in Chief
The first question of the night was about the economy, but Sen. Ted Cruz came out swinging with a statement about the American sailors captured by Iran. “I was horrified to see the sight of ten American sailors on their knees,” Cruz said. He criticized President Obama for “no so much as mentioning” the captured military personnel during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. “I give you my word, if I am elected President no servicemen or women will be forced to their knees,” Cruz declared. Gov. Chris Christie also referenced Obama’s STOTU address, dubbing it “story time.” If he were president, said Christie, America’s allies would “be able to count on our word” and our adversaries would know “there are limits to our patience.” Christie referenced his characteristic bluntness as a strength in foreign policy. “The one thing they’ve never said about me is that I’m misunderstood,” he said. Christie stressed that he would only use military action when it was “absolutely necessary” to protect American lives and interests. “We are not the world’s policeman.” Following suit, Gov. Jeb Bush took aim at Obama’s record as Commander in Chief. He accused the President of “missing the whole point that America’s leadership in the world is required for peace.” Bush also targeted Obama for speaking “with grandiose language” about “red lines” while the world is “torn asunder.” Sen. Marco Rubio gave a forceful promise for what his administration would do to fight ISIS. “When I’m President,” he said, “the most powerful intelligence in the world will tell us where they are. The most powerful military will destroy them. And any we capture alive will get a one way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Ben Carson also accused the President of underplaying the threats of war in the 21st century. He pointed to dirty bombs, cyber attacks and EMP pulses as things that must be considered “an existential threat” and dealt with. John Kasich explained that “in foreign policy it’s [a matter of] strength but you’ve got to be cool. You’ve got to have a clear vision of what you want to do…you can’t do on the job training.”
ISIS and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Candidates were asked to reflect on comments by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who dropped out of the presidential race in December. Graham made combating ISIS the focus of his campaign, calling for the removal of Assad and ground troops to supplement airstrikes. Ben Carson said our military is more than capable of crushing ISIS “if we don’t tie their hands behind their back.” He advocated for a targeted attack on oil tankers, saying “we need to shut down their mechanisms of funding and attack their centers of control.” Chris Christie jumped in to agree with Sen. Graham, asserting ” we cannot have peace with Assad.” Christie called for a no-fly zone and efforts to resettle refugees within Syria’s borders.
Christie wasn’t the only candidate who addressed refugees. President Obama showed his support by inviting the Syrian refugee who sat in the First Lady’s box on Tuesday night during the State of the Union. Trump rejected the claim that he spreads an image of fear and terror. “It’s not fear and terror, it’s reality,” said Trump. He pointed to Indonesia, California and Paris as sites of recent terror attacks linked, by some, to refugees. “Where are the women?” Trump asked. “Where are the children? These are strong powerful men, young men…this could be the great Trojan Horse.” When asked if he wanted the rethink any of his past comments about banning all Muslims from entering the United States, Trump said no. Jeb Bush interjected and said Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric makes it harder to defeat ISIS. “All Muslims? Seriously? What kind of signal does that send to the world?” Bush argued. He expressed understanding for the anger and frustration among Americans today, but also gave a warning. “We’re running for President of the United States here. You have to lead, you cannot make rash statements and expect the world” to brush it off, Bush asserted. After the debate, Trump told reporters Bush “is a nice guy, but he is a little weak, isn’t he?”
The exchange between Trump and Bush set off a domino effect with the other candidates. John Kasich weighed in and said although “we don’t want to put everyone in the same category,” we should not admit refugees until we can properly vet them. Christie made a similar statement, saying he wants to ban “radical Islamic jihadists,” not all Muslims. He also cited the need for a stronger intelligence network as crucial to the vetting process. Rubio stated that when he is President “if we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you’re coming, you are not getting in to the United States.” Bush called for reconsideration once more before the question changed, saying “Are we going to ban all Muslims from India? Indonesia? No. We need to destroy ISIS” by arming the Kurds, embedding in the Iraqi army and supporting Muslims who are already in the fight.
Ted Cruz ridiculed Obama for trying to “paint a rosy picture of jobs” in his State of the Union. “We have the lowest percentage of Americans working today” and wages are stagnated, said Cruz. John Kasich pointed to his record as Governor of Ohio, laying out three steps to create job growth. A balanced budget, “common sense” regulations and tax cuts formed his prescription for a stronger economy. Kasich also called for more “fiscal discipline” in Washington. He promised to “fight like crazy so people can still think the American dream exists…Everyone, and I mean everyone, in America can have a better life than their parents.” Trump and Kasich both called for fair and open trade and criticizes the administration for allowing China to break trade agreements. Rubio called for regulatory reform and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, “a certified job killer.”
Thursday’s debate took place just minutes from downtown Charleston and the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the sight of a horrific shooting in June. Jeb Bush praised Gov. Nikki Haley’s response to the killings and “the people in that church who showed the grace of God.” Bush said that in the case of Dylann Roof, the FBI made a mistake. The solution to gun violence, he argued, is enforcing the laws we have; not making new ones. He also called for bipartisan action to address mental health issues. Trump agreed that we have “a huge mental problem” , but also asserted there are no circumstances in which he’d limit gun rights. Rubio echoed the push for stricter enforcement. Christ Christie was questioned on his evolving stance on guns. “I don’t think the founding fathers put it second by accident,” said Christie. “In New Jersey, we’ve made it easier to get a conceal and carry permit.” Christie said his actions both limiting and expanding gun rights have been “done properly”, in contrast to Obama’s executive orders. “This guy’s a petulant child,” Christie said of the President.
Here Comes Hillary
All of the candidates, looking ahead to the general election, went after Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. In regards to global unrest, Christie warned Americans that “if you’re worried, you cannot give Hillary Clinton a third term.” Jeb Bush pointed out that Clinton is currently under investigation with the FBI, quipping that if she gets elected “she might be going back and forth from the White House to the courthouse.” Marco Rubio declared that Clinton would not only be a “disaster,” but that her inability to properly handle sensitive security information disqualifies her from the presidency. Jeb Bush stressed the GOP’s need to “unite behind the winner” to defeat Clinton in November. “We need to have a compelling, conservative agenda.” Ben Carson was asked whether Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions and Hillary’s handling of them should be fair game in the campaign. “Is this America anymore?” asked Carson in reply. “We need to start recognizing that there is such a thing as right and wrong” and not let “the secular progressives drive that out of us.”
Cruz in the Cross Hairs
Cruz faced questions about his eligibility to run, given his Canadian birth. He dismissed the concerns, saying sarcastically “I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics this evening.” Trump originally brought up the issue of Cruz’s birth supposedly out of concern that a Democratic opponent might bring a lawsuit. The two men traded jabs about serving as each other’s Vice Presidential candidates. They also clashed over comments Cruz has made in the past about Trumps New York values. When moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Cruz what he meant by that, he replied “I think most people know exactly what New York values mean.” He claimed that New Yorkers are, as a rule, social liberal and motivated by money and the media. “I’m just saying, not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan,” Cruz said in allusion to Trump’s recent Republican conversion. Trump responded with a heavy emotional hit, saying “when the World Trade Center came down, I saw something no people on earth could have handled better or more humanely than New York.”
Post Debate with Donald Trump
CisternYard News caught up with front runner Donald Trump after the debate to hear his closing thoughts. He elaborated on his tense exchange with Ted Cruz, saying “this was against people having breakfast, people in office buildings. New York did an amazing job and I was there for the death, that was tremendous death and even the smell of death. But they rebuilt, they did an incredible job, and I don’t think anybody should be attacking 20 million people.” When asked if he’d be comfortable handing over his business to his kids, Trump said “I would have total confidence in my children…all I want to do is make America great again.” CisternYard then asked, given his willingness to engage us militarily overseas, how Mr. Trump plans to care for our veterans. “I love our veterans. Nobody takes care of our veterans like Trump. I love them. They’re our best people.”