With its focus on national security, the mid-December Republican debate, though a month past, can still serve as a stark reminder of how silly and insubstantial leading Republicans are when it comes to dealing with problems like ISIS and Putin, as well as and how ill-fit and unqualified they are to be President of the United States. It can also still serve as a stark reminder of how different they are in both substance and style from leading Democratic Party members.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse January 16, 2016
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
AMMAN — I apologize to my readers that this has not been put out sooner, but life, the holidays, all sorts of things can get in the way. Yet the serious issues raised by the mid-December Republican debate have not gone away, and are still just as relevant then as they are now, thus, this analysis, while a month after the event, is still relevant to the election and to the issues of security and foreign policy. The security-oriented debate was perhaps the most banal and predictable Republican debate yet. Most candidates said nothing novel or new, and simply repeated soundbites that have grown to be as repetitive as they are hollow and hyperbolic. On issues of international security, the Republicans are as loud as they are on any issue, and provide as stark a contrast to the Democrats as they do on any other issue, too. It is worth taking a brief look at the content of the debate (though almost nothing new was said), and then to contrast what leading Republicans’ present vs. what the Democratic front-runners present.
Gov. Jeb Bush competently called for safe zones and a no fly zone and spoke out against Trump’s Islamophobic ideas repeatedly. You almost had to feel bad for him: one of the least extreme candidates on the Republican side with roughly the most relevant experience has failed to launch repeatedly and is going nowhere fast. Sen. Rand Paul thoughtfully noted that America must be restrained, especially with Russia and notions of regime change, so as not to make things worse, and spoke out against surveillance. Gov. Kasich sounded moderate (except when he called for a Gulf War I-style invasion to take out ISIS), but said nothing terribly memorable or impactful. After these moments, apart from a somewhat interesting kerfuffle over surveillance, most of the rest of the debate was just hot-air bombast. And all these candidates, who are among the most substantive of the field depending on the issue, are all doing terribly in the polls (except for Kasich in NH, who is polling respectably in NH relative to everyone but Trump) and don’t seem poised to win anything.
Now, for the leaders: Dr. Carson just seemed to be the Donny of the debate: out of his element (what is surprising is that so many people don’t realize just how out of his element he is). I recognized him as woefully unpreparedfor prime-time as of the first Republican debate, and though his star has faded from his peak at the #2 spot behind Trump, I still feel Carson’s popularity with so many Republicans is a justified basis for my sustained contempt for those very Republicans, and by contempt I am referring to my feelings for them supporting someone who is so clueless when it comes to policy and politics.
As for the rest of the candidates, they pretty much tried their best to do their best John Wayne imitations, because in their minds, complicated geopolitics and dynamic terrorist movements operating in complex social, political, ethnic, and religious spheres call for Hollywood-inspired, simplistic solutions embodied by tough-talk soundbites and cowboy posing (their elevation of Reagan to the level of semi-deity should leave no doubt about this). These other candidates—Trump, Sen. Cruz, Sen. Rubio, Fiorina, and Gov. Christie (the first three now representing the top three candidates nationally)—almost farcically and comically competed as to who could sound the toughest against the terrorists. “KILL!” “DESTROY!” “CARPET-BOMB!” “HUNT DOWN!”” blah blah blah…
One of the most nonsensical moments came when Cruz, who had earlier recklessly said he wanted to find out “if sand can glow in the dark,” was asked if he would “carpet-bomb” Raqqa, ISIS’s “caliphate’s” “capital,” even though there were hundreds of thousands of civilians there; his response was that he would not bomb a city but, instead, would bomb where the ISIS soldiers were (HINT: THEY ARE IN RAQQA THE CITY, TED!). Yes, just another moment when the rhetoric was exposed as wholly inappropriate to the situation, and yet, almost invariably, such extremist statements were met with wild applause from the Republicans in the audience. Fiorina, lying and misleading as much as ever, made it clear that she was an expert on national security because she named the Sixth Fleet… by name! Rubio sounded completely foolish when he (sensibly) noted that the main fight against ISIS had to be carried out by Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, then just moments later criticized Obama and Clinton for “leading from behind” and “outsource[ing] foreign policy,” apparently oblivious to the stupendous contradiction involved. So even though Rubio was often making more sense than the other leading candidates, he had plenty of moments when matched them in ridiculousness. Yes, these candidates stumbled over each other trying to sound as macho as possible in order to win the support of their childish Republicans base.
At this point, it’s useful to be reminded of some clear contrasts between the Republicans and the Democrats on foreign policy (especially for all the fools who claim there is no difference between the two parties):
1.) Hillary Clinton, the democratic candidate with the most relevant experience and the most moderate positions, is the front-runner, and has at least a 90-95% chance of winning the nomination according to statistics prodigy and super-accurate election predictor Nate Silver (he got every single state’s choice in the 2012 presidential election correct in his predictions); on the Republican side, the candidates with the least experience and most extreme positions are leading and, combined, dwarf the support of experienced, more reasoned moderates.
2.) For all their tough talk, top Republican candidates have offered very little specifically that would do now differently than Obama; they say they want to bomb ISIS, but Obama is doing that; several say they want push Sunni Muslims to lead the fight against ISIS with the promise of more aid if they do so, but Obama is doing that; they say they want to arm the Kurds, but Obama is doing that. The main differences amount to how they would talk about ISIS (more John Wayne/Reagan-esque posing line delivery!) and what they would do in terms of refugee entry into the U.S. All this more or less applies to the situation with Russia and Ukraine, too: you can count on Republicans to come up with needlessly provocative bombast even as they struggle to fault the specifics of his overall strategy. Thus, in general, the nebulous Republican criticism of Obama has more to do with semantics and style than with actual policy, and their “solutions” have proven maddeningly lacking in specifics. They basically say they will continue Obama’s policies and strategy, just more intensely and forcefully, ignoring the potential negative consequences of going too far. In other words, they have learned nothing from George W. Bush’s Iraq War.
lacking in specifics. They basically say they will continue Obama’s policies and strategy, just more intensely and forcefully, ignoring the potential negative consequences of going too far. In other words, they have learned nothing from George W. Bush’s Iraq War.
3.) However, one clear difference is that Republicans in general are far more willing to deploy American troops on the ground in harm’s way, and, it should be added, without any exit specific exit strategy, and are, in general, willing to rely more on force while disdaining diplomacy (see their response to the Iran nuclear deal), than are Democrats.
4.) Another clear difference is that Republicans, in general, seem less concerned with inflicting civilian casualties in fighting ISIS than Democrats
I suppose it is easy to see why the leading Republican candidates are ableto appeal to less educated voters with a cartoon understanding of the world that think the solution to Putin and ISIS is to for America to be more like John Wayne. Again, their hero Ronald Reagan is basically a second-rate, wannabe John Wayne, so this should not be any surprise. That so many Republican voters are falling for this silly nonsense is just another indication of the vast gulf between Democrats and Republicans in terms of seriousness and credibility on the major issues of the day.
See also: review of most recent Republican debate
Here are many more articles by Brian E. Frydenborg. If you think your site or another would be a good place for this content please do not hesitate to reach out to me! Please feel free to share and repost on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (you can follow me there at @bfry1981)