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.


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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