Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio only had blows for one another at Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate, with Rubio suggesting Cruz may have disclosed classified intelligence on the debate stage, and Cruz calling Rubio a liberal on immigration.
In other words, each of the Cuban-American first-term senators made clear that he sees the other as his real competition.
In a less expected pas de deux, it was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who managed to get under front-runner Donald Trump’s skin.
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Off to one side, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul kept pelting his rivals with rocks, noting that “Trump says we ought to close that Internet thing,” to fight terror, while “Rubio says we should collect all Americans’ records all of the time.” But the other eight candidates tried not to reward him with attention, ignoring his point that “if we ban certain religions … the terrorists will have won.” Likewise, they walked right past his argument that “if you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there’s something called the Geneva Convention we’re going to have to pull out of.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, meanwhile, boldly took on Congress, speaking to and for the crowd when he poked fun at Cruz and Rubio for speaking the patois of Capitol Hill as they argued over legislative amendments.
“If your eyes are glazing over like mine,’’ Christie said, “this is what it’s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate. I mean, endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who’ve never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position.”
Christie also played into the idea that some in the GOP might not be right up-to-the minute in their thinking about women: “Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound,’’ he said, referring to the threat that closed Los Angeles schools on Monday. “Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children.”
Or, maybe he was just doing his part to take on “political correctness,” which several candidates called a major security threat.
Cruz said that if he’s elected president, “We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness. Rather, we will speak the truth … and we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees,” who have already been through a rigorous screening that takes a minimum of 18 months.
Trump continued to speak in big and brave but wildly general terms, promising that “if I’m president and if Obama has brought some [refugee ISIS followers] to this country, they are leaving. They’re going. They’re gone.”
And Cruz, who recently moved into the lead in polling in Iowa, went back to minimizing his differences with Trump’s call to exclude all Muslims from entering the country, saying only that “I introduced legislation in the Senate that I believe is more narrowly focused at the actual threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism, and what my legislation would do is suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or al-Qaida control substantial territory.”
From his spot nearer the back of the pack, Bush did take on Trump, however, and he was the most specific about what he’d do to combat terrorism: “We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?”
After Bush correctly pointed out that “two months ago Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight,’’ Trump demanded that Bush apologize for interrupting him, and hit back with this: “I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well.”
It was, though.
A college student from Georgia Tech who got to ask a question wondered whether Trump’s promise to go after the families of ISIS terrorists violates international law. And “how would intentionally killing innocent civilians set us apart from ISIS?” Trump answered by essentially arguing that the relatives and friends of terrorists know plenty, and thus aren’t innocent.
The most surprising moment of the evening may have been when conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Carson a loaded, no-win question that drew some boos — and would have caused far more of an uproar had any journalist asked it: “So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians” while waging war against ISIS?
“You got it, you got it,” Carson said, agreeing with the crowd’s negative reaction to the question before going on to say that he, too, would do whatever it takes to destroy the enemy.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina set herself apart by boasting about her womanly strength: “I have been tested. I have beaten breast cancer. I have buried a child. I started as a secretary,’’ a job she held only briefly as a Stanford grad, after dropping out of law school. “I fought my way to the top of corporate America while being called every B-word in the book.”
After she mentioned the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Trump was asked to weigh in and had this to say: “Well, people feel differently. I mean, the fact is Benghazi was a disaster because of Libya, everything just fell into place. It could not have been worse.”
And who could argue?
One further point of agreement was that President Obama “hasn’t kept us safe,’’ and that a Republican in the White House would. Of course, there were also terror attacks on our soil under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and unfortunately we aren’t likely to be completely safe no matter who is elected next year, either. But no one said that.
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