GOP Candidates Try to Scare the Hell Out of America

In debate, they exploit the nation’s anxieties over national security and Obama.

Ted Cruz speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday.
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
Jan. 14, 2016, 10:44 p.m.

They’re com­ing to kill you, Amer­ica.

Dirty bombs. Cy­ber­at­tacks. Elec­tro­mag­net­ic pulses.

Ir­an.

Dodd and Frank.

“Strong, power­ful young men.”

Between skir­mishes over Ted Cruz’s eli­gib­il­ity, Don­ald Trump’s leg­al au­thor­ity, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cred­ib­il­ity, Chris Christie’s RINO­ism, Bernie Sanders’s so­cial­ism, and Barack Obama’s pat­ri­ot­ism, the GOP pres­id­en­tial field tried Thursday night to scare the hell out of Amer­ica.

Tak­ing ad­vant­age of lais­sez-faire mod­er­at­ors in their sixth de­bate, the GOP’s top sev­en pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates spouted talk­ing points that ranged from war­mon­ger­ing to weird.

Sen. Ted Cruz set the tone by duck­ing an open­ing ques­tion on the eco­nomy to de­nounce Obama for Ir­an’s seizure of 10 U.S. sail­ors who ap­par­ently breached Tehran’s ter­rit­ori­al wa­ters. The sail­ors were quickly re­leased after be­ing held at gun­point. One of the men apo­lo­gized in an Ir­a­ni­an pro­pa­ganda video.

If he is elec­ted, Cruz de­clared, no Amer­ic­an ser­vice­man would be forced to his knees, and any coun­try that tried would feel “the full force and fury of the United States.”

The crowd roared in ap­prov­al, but even his sup­port­ers should con­sider the Cruz Doc­trine: The U.S. will go to war against any na­tion that briefly de­tains U.S. mil­it­ary per­son­nel who breach that na­tion’s ter­rit­ory.

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie wouldn’t be out­done. He vowed that no U.S. ships would ever fall in­to the hands of “tin-pot” dic­tat­ors.

Former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush de­clared that Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner Hil­lary Clin­ton “would be a na­tion­al se­cur­ity dis­aster.” He cited her role in a string of for­eign flare-ups in­clud­ing the 2012 Benghazi at­tacks and … “Dodd-Frank.”

Bush did not ex­plain why bank­ing reg­u­la­tions would make Clin­ton a lousy com­mand­er in chief.

No mat­ter, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida offered, Clin­ton is un­qual­i­fied to lead the U.S. mil­it­ary be­cause she “lied” to the fam­il­ies of the vic­tims of the Benghazi at­tacks about the raid’s cause. (The Wash­ing­ton Post called his cri­ti­cism a stretch. “The evid­ence for this claim is murky and open to in­ter­pret­a­tion,” Glenn Kessler wrote. “But Ru­bio really goes too far in sug­gest­ing that she told this to all of the fam­il­ies of the four who were killed in the ter­ror­ist at­tacks.”)

Then the de­bate took a turn for the truly sur­real.

Re­tired neurosur­geon Ben Car­son warned that ter­ror­ists could sim­ul­tan­eously ex­plode dirty bombs, un­leash cy­ber­at­tacks, and trig­ger an elec­tro­mag­net­ic pulse that would shut­ter the na­tion’s en­ergy grid.

No flocks of killer uni­corns?

“Can you ima­gine,” Car­son asked, “the danger that would en­sue?”

Front-run­ner Don­ald Trump re­newed his op­pos­i­tion to Muslim im­mig­ra­tion—“that could be the great Tro­jan horse”—and sug­ges­ted that his policy against Syr­i­an refugees stems from his cas­u­al ex­am­in­a­tion of tele­vi­sion foot­age. “Where are the wo­men?” he said, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to crowds of Syr­i­an refugees, which in his eyes are dom­in­ated by “strong, power­ful young men.”

In the af­ter­math of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Par­is and San Bern­ardino, Cali­for­nia, na­tion­al se­cur­ity has edged out the eco­nomy as the primary con­cern of many voters. Polls show Pres­id­ent Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing on fight­ing ter­ror­ism dropped as he struggled to strike a bal­ance between over­re­act­ing and un­der­re­act­ing.

Amer­ic­ans are jus­ti­fied to be afraid. Amer­ic­an lead­ers should work to calm the pub­lic. They should re­dir­ect anxi­et­ies to­ward sup­port of well-reasoned re­sponses that make the na­tion as safe as pos­sible without ca­reen­ing to­ward an­oth­er war over false pre­tenses.

Not this crew. Not these GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. They’re com­ing to scare us, Amer­ica.

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