© Josh Sager – December 2016
Yesterday, the Republican Party had its 5th debate (link to transcript) of the 2016 primary season and it was excruciating the watch. The entire debate was an exercise in substance-free posturing, interspersed with blind hatred, delusional policy proposals and calls to brutality. Each of the candidates took their chance to declare themselves as the toughest and smartest candidate on defense issues, while disparaging the other candidates along with the current administration and Hillary Clinton.
While there were so many bad moments at this debate that it would be hard to put them on a scale, there were a couple moments that were simply beyond the pale. In my opinion, the title of most heinous comment/proposal during debate is a tie, held between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
First, when pressed on his proposal to start killing the families of Islamic terrorists, Trump doubled down and reiterated his support for murdering these innocents. He specifically mentioned “friends family, [and] girlfriends” when discussing these plans, so it is safe to assume that his targeting parameters for those close to terrorists is very broad, and could encompass almost anybody in their vicinity.
Of course, being a Republican debate during the 2016 cycle, the “moderators” failed to ask the obvious follow-up of whether this policy would include white, right wing, terrorists in the USA, who actually commit the most terrorist attacks of any other group. This would have been extremely uncomfortable for many in this group, as who knows how many of them have a crazy uncle/cousin/brother/in-law who is involved in the right wing militia movement and who may bring down a predator strike on his entire family if this policy ever gets enacted. While I have little hope that such follow up would have been answered honestly by Trump (he would almost certainly have deflected and accused the moderators of bias for conflating right wing American terrorism with right wing Islamist terrorism), it would have at least put this possibility into the minds of the audience.
Not to be out-done, Cruz said that he would “carpet bomb” ISIS in order to destroy them. As ISIS exists primarily in civilian areas, such a bombing campaign would kill innumerable civilians, not to mention the fact that carpet-bombing is explicitly banned in the Geneva Conventions. In effect, he just stood up and publically declared his intention to commit war crimes if elected president.
As with Trump’s family-murdering plan, the moderators refused to mention these inconvenient facts or challenge his comments in the slightest. In fact, Hugh Hewett, the representative of extreme conservatives among the moderators, followed up on these comments by Cruz and Trump while questioning Carson on whether he could match their brutality given his history as a doctor. Here is an excerpt from that exchange:
Hewett: “We’re talking about ruthless things tonight — carpet bombing, toughness, war. And people wonder, could you do that? Could you order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander-in-chief?”
Carson: “Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor. They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.”
This exchange strikes me as amazing for several reasons.
First and foremost, the question reveals a truly terrifying strain of though within the GOP establishment—they take it as a given that a true “Commander in Chief” wages war by killing “thousands” of children abroad, and that anybody who finds this unpalatable is not qualified for the job. Putting aside the obvious lack of morality this demonstrates, the idea that we can defeat terrorism by killing children and bombing Muslim regions into oblivion is absolutely absurd. Those children have families, and killing them will create a massive amount of hatred among the survivors—I can think of no better recruitment tool for ISIS than this.
Second, Carson’s argument that the pain he caused during surgery to save lives is equitable with killing families and carpet bombing to destroy ISIS is fundamentally wrong-headed. Killing civilians is not only immoral and “painful” but it is also an amazing recruitment tool for ISIS that could sway the region against the west and into their pockets.
In the face of these comments, all of the other exchanges were tepid by comparison—for the most part, each of the candidates just repeated the same “tough on defense” language over and over again with few real policy suggestions or factual supports for their ideas. That said, I need to give some credit to Rand Paul, who was the least-reprehensible of the candidates on the stage.
Paul actually had several pretty good exchanges on privacy rights with Rubio and Trump. He is opposed to bulk surveillance by the government and was willing to defend this position against attacks from other candidates. Additionally, Paul, pointed out the obvious on several occasions by recognizing that getting involved in regime changes in the Middle East has caused immense problems for the USA and suggesting that we stop creating these messes. Ironically, this puts Paul in roughly the same boat that Bernie Sanders is in, and makes him slightly more progressive on this issue than even Hillary Clinton.
For his lucidity on the issues of privacy and foreign interventionism, as well as the vacuous barbarism of his adversaries, I consider Paul to be the substantive “winner” of this debate. To be honest, this bar is about as high a popsicle stick laid flat on the ground, but he is the only candidate on the stage who managed even this much, so take that as you will.