CNBC’s GOP Debate Mute About National Security by Ryan Mauro

Foreign policy and national security was disappointingly absent from last night’s Republican presidential debate. The event focused on financial issues because it was hosted by the CNBC business news channel, but the economy is intertwined with important debates about foreign policy, energy independence and global instability.  At one point, an incredulous Gov. Chris Christie mocked how more time was spent discussing fantasy football than the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) threat.

The following is a summary of the statements related to national security that were made by the candidates.

George Pataki

The most impressive national answers in my judgment were given by George Pataki during the first debate amongst the four lowest polling candidates.  He pointed out that his two sons served in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The impact of cyber attacks on the economy were discussed in the undercard debate but were shockingly left out of the main event, even though Iran and North Korea (and others) have waged cyber warfare on the U.S.

Pataki said that the U.S. should sanction any company that engages in hacking and bar them from trade with the American market, including those of Chinese origin. He said that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example in establishing a single federal agency dedicated to cyber defense. He then linked the issue to the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s unsecured email server at her home and the likelihood that its contents was hacked by Iran, Russia, China and others.

Pataki is currently in 15th place among the 16 Republican contenders with an average of less than 1% nationally and less than 1% for the New Hampshire primary that is the focus of his campaign. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s answers related to national security earned the most applause. He said that the U.S. is too predictable and shouldn’t be constantly talking about how it will handle enemies like the Islamic State. The audience roared when he said that servicemen at military installations should be trusted to be armed, referring to the Islamist shooting at two sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee in July that killed five people.

Trump is the frontrunner nationally with 27%; is in second place with 21% in Iowa (behind Ben Carson); first place in New Hampshire with 30% and first place in South Carolina with 33%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.

Chris Christie

Chris Christie was also received very positively when he talked about national security, particularly when he lambasted the extremely condescending CNBC moderators (as other candidates did) and pointed out how fantasy football was talked about more than the Islamic State.

Christie warned of foreign policy isolationists that would leave behind fewer democracies around the world and criticized the Obama Administration’s record on promoting freedom. He also cited the FBI director’s statement that the stigmatizing of law enforcement is increasing crime and decreasing safety.

Christie is currently in 10th place nationally with 2% and 9th place in New Hampshire with 3%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham emphasized national security during the undercard debate and was met with thunderous applause when he said that he’d let dictators know that the “party is over” and “this crap stops” if he becomes president.

He warned of the danger of cuts to the defense budget and claimed that the Army will shrink to its smallest size since 1940. On the issue of cyber warfare, he said he’d tell China and others involved in hacking that the U.S. has a clenched fist and an open hand and their behavior will decide which one is used.

Graham is currently in 11th place nationally with 1%, 12th in New Hampshire with 1% and 7th in South Carolina with 3%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio’s only comments related to national security were about the hearings regarding the Islamist terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 and Hillary Clinton’s testimony. He said that Clinton privately wrote emails stating that the violence was a terrorist attack linked to Al-Qaeda but that she and the administration blamed it on an out-of-control protest against a video criticizing Islam.

Rubio is currently in third place nationally with 9%; third in Iowa with 10%; fourth in New Hampshire with 8% and third in South Carolina with 8%. You can read out factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.


Ryan Mauro is’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.


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