The first Republican presidential debate since the Paris and San Bernardino attacks focused almost entirely on national security and terrorism, and most candidates fell over themselves to sound tough, no matter whether their proposals would actually help.
The fifth and final GOP debate of 2015 also further exposed Donald Trump as the shallow, thin-skinned and ill-tempered candidate he is, completely unsuitable to be commander in chief.
As the front-runner in national polls, Trump stood at center stage Tuesday night in Las Vegas, and took fire from other candidates, especially over his despicable, self-defeating idea to at least temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Several candidates rightly pointed out that such a policy makes it more difficult to win over Muslim leaders to help defeat the Islamic State and amounts to declaring war on an entire religion – exactly what jihadist groups want.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky pointed out that another Trump strategy – to kill innocent family members of Islamic State fighters – would violate the Geneva Conventions. He also reminded Trump that his idea to shut down parts of the Internet to thwart terrorists – even if technologically possible – would trash something called the First Amendment.
The most aggressive in challenging Trump was a newly energized Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of former President George W. Bush. Trump responded not by debating issues, but by lashing out at the media and Bush.
“You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” Bush replied.
We hope he’s right. Bush is certainly correct that if Trump can’t handle being criticized during a debate, he isn’t ready for the Oval Office.
A notable exception to the anti-Trump chorus was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who passed up several chances to go after Trump and even joked that he would appoint the billionaire developer to build a wall at the Mexican border, another irrational plan. Trump, as part of this apparent non-aggression pact, took back his description of Cruz as a “maniac,” saying that “he has a wonderful temperament.”
Cruz has passed Trump in the Iowa polls and evidently expects to eventually pick up Trump’s supporters and represent the GOP’s fear-and-anger wing. Instead, Cruz clashed repeatedly with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who may be the best bet to represent establishment Republicans as the field narrows.
But Cruz has his own fatal flaws. For starters, he’s a full-blown climate change denier, which in this day and age should be an automatic disqualifier to be president. Even as the son of Cuban immigrants, he is a hard-liner against the comprehensive immigration reform we desperately need.
His bombs-away foreign policy sounds more like Russia’s Vladimir Putin than an American president. Tuesday night, Cruz repeated his call to “carpet” bomb Islamic State strongholds in Syria. That’s an irresponsible if not ignorant notion that has no regard for civilian casualties and is opposed by military leaders. He said the U.S. should support dictators in the Middle East, including Syria’s Bashar Assad, who has the blood of thousands on his hands.
In his closing statement, Cruz tried again to cast himself as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. It shouldn’t take voters long to figure out he is no Ronald Reagan, not even close.