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Government & Politics

Lessons of the Fifth GOP Debate

All candidates bring their constituents to the election that matters most.

Mark Alexander · Dec. 16, 2015

Nine Republican candidates took the stage last night in the fifth debate of this primary cycle. The theme was national security, and there’s no question the next president will have an enormous task endeavoring to recover from Barack Obama’s years of domestic and foreign policy failures. But perhaps the overarching takeaway is that everyone on the stage brings their constituents to the election that matters most — defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Here is my summary: The most prepared were Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. The least prepared were Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Carson in particular is a smart, moral, nice guy who is painfully unprepared to be commander in chief.

Some other observations: Rand Paul too often sounded petulant, but he had the best cheerleading section. Trump and Jeb Bush hate each other — perhaps because they are most alike as silver-spoon politicos. Trump again demonstrated he is the master of sound bites but thin on any real understanding of issues. Bush, on the other hand, is knowledgeable, but comes across as whiny and mad at Trump for taking his candy. Chris Christie would have been far more formidable in 2012. John Kasich wins the “time bell violator” award.

Last but certainly not least, the most notable political phenomenon with the greatest potential consequences in 2016 and beyond would be the rocketing rise of Trump. His celebrity name recognition, contentious remarks and populist rhetoric have kept the blustering billionaire at the top of pop-presidential polls for months.

Trump’s support is a reflection of how dissatisfied millions of disenfranchised grassroots conservatives are with Republican “leadership.” The status quo represented by former House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has, in effect, underwritten Trump’s rising stardom. Despite greatly increasing the numbers of conservatives in the House and Senate in the historic “Republican Wave” elections nationwide in both 2010 and 2014, the much-loathed “establishment types” held the House reins until Paul Ryan replaced Boehner, and they still control the Senate. GOP leaders continue to marginalize or ignore the concerns of the conservative/Republican base — grassroots conservatives — and we are rightly outraged.

2016 will either provide an opportunity for the renewal of American exceptionalism in 2017 — the restoration of principles that have made our nation great — or it will end with the election of Hillary Clinton and a more precipitous national and international degradation.

Now, without further ado, here are some important remarks and exchanges:

On immigration:

RUBIO: “The American people don’t trust the federal government to enforce our immigration laws, and we will not be able to do anything on immigration until we first prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control. … It takes at least 20,000 more additional border agents. It takes completing those 700 miles of fencing. It takes a mandatory e-verify system and a mandatory entry/exit tracking system to prevent overstays. After we have done that, the second thing we have to do is reform and modernize the legal immigration system. And after we have done those two things, I think the American people are going to be reasonable with what do you do with someone who has been in this country for 10 or 12 years who hasn’t otherwise violated our laws — because if they’re a criminal they can’t stay.”

CRUZ: “[W]e will secure the border. We will triple the border patrol. We will build a wall that works and I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it. … [Rubio] was fighting to grant amnesty and not secure the border. I was fighting to secure the border. … I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.”

On foreign policy regarding Middle East dictators:

TRUMP: “In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems … we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.”

FIORINA: “That is exactly what President Obama said. I’m amazed to hear that from a Republican presidential candidate.”

On the Islamic State, terrorism and the refugee problem:

BUSH: “Well, first of all, we need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there.”

KASICH: “I said last February that we needed to have … troops on the ground in a coalition similar to what we had in the first Gulf War. … First and foremost, we need to go and destroy ISIS. And we need to do this with our Arab friends and our friends in Europe. And when I see they have a climate conference over in Paris, they should have been talking about destroying ISIS because they are involved in virtually every country across this world.”

TRUMP: “A month ago [in Paris] things changed. Radical Islamic terrorism came into effect even more so than it has been in the past. People like what I say. People respect what I say. And we’ve opened up a very big discussion that needed to be opened up.”

CHRISTIE: “If you listen to Hillary Clinton the other day, what she said to the American people was, as regards to ISIS, my strategy would be just about the same as the president’s. … We have people across this country who are scared to death. Because I could tell you this, as a former federal prosecutor, if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, California, is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere in America is a target for these terrorists.”

TRUMP: “ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet, and it was our idea. What I wanted to do is I wanted to get our brilliant people from Silicon Valley and other places and figure out a way that ISIS cannot do what they’re doing. … I would certainly be open to closing areas [of the Internet] where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet.”

CARSON: “The war that we are fighting now against radical Islamist jihadists is one that we must win. Our very existence is dependent upon that.”

On the Obama/Clinton record:

FIORINA: “Hillary Clinton has gotten every foreign policy challenge wrong. Hitting the reset button with Vladimir Putin — recall that she called Bashar Al-Assad a positive reformer and then she opened an embassy and then later she said, over, and over, and over again, ‘Bashar Al-Assad must go,’ although she wasn’t prepared to do anything about it. Recall that Hillary Clinton was all for toppling [Moammar] Gadhafi, then didn’t listen to her own people on the ground. And then of course, when she lied about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, she invited more terrorist attacks.”

On the USA Freedom Act and NSA surveillance:

CRUZ: “I’m very proud to have joined with conservatives in both the Senate and the House to reform how we target bad guys. It gave us greater tools and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino. In particular, what it did is the prior program only covered a relatively narrow slice of phone calls.”

RUBIO: “We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools. And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”

PAUL: “We are not any safer through the collection of all Americans’ records. In fact, I think we’re less safe. We get so distracted by all the information, we’re not spending enough time getting specific information on terrorists.”

RUBIO: “If a regular law enforcement agency wants your phone records, all they have to do is issue a subpoena. But now the intelligence agency is not able to quickly gather records and look at them to see who these terrorists are calling.”

On allegiance to the GOP:

Co-moderator Hugh Hewitt: “Are you [Trump] ready to assure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?”

TRUMP: “I really am. I’ll be honest, I really am. … I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front runner.”

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