Military spending, the implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria and policy towards Russia were hot topics at the November 10th Republican presidential debate. The following is a summary of what each candidate said in regards to national security, as well as Lindsey Graham who was denied participation but commented online.
Trump stood out as the only candidate to support Russia’s military intervention in Syria, even going so far as to say he gets along with Russian President Putin. Trump said he has no issue if Putin wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS, apparently unaware that the primary targets of Russian airstrikes are not ISIS or Al-Qaeda. He said he’d tell other countries like Germany to defend Ukraine instead of U.S. taxpayer money being spent.
Trump and Rand Paul were the only two candidates to call for the U.S. to stay out of the civil war in Syria. Trump said he was told by a U.S. general recently that we don’t know who the Syrian rebels are and so he opposes arming forces that could be worse than the Assad regime.
He supported increased military spending, arguing that the deterrence it creates will save money.
Trump is currently the frontrunner. He is leading nationally with a polling average of 25%; an increase of 2% since the last debate. He is tied for the lead in Iowa with 24% (3-point increase); New Hampshire with 27% (3-point decrease) and South Carolina with 29% (4-point decrease). You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Carson supports President Obama’s deployment of 50 special operations personnel to Syria to train “moderate” rebels, saying that it is better than nothing. He said the U.S. needs a presence in the area to counter Russia and China.
Carson made an important point about the need to make the Islamic State (ISIS) “look like losers” because the appearance of success is what drives their strength. The Clarion Project has written about how jihadists rely upon success to validate their ideology. He said that the U.S. military should help retake an Iraqi outfield outside of Anbar Province to begin destroying the Islamic State caliphate.
Carson is currently the runner-up. He is in second place nationally with a polling average of 24%. He ties Trump for the lead in Iowa with 24%; is in second in New Hampshire with 15% and is in second in South Carolina with 23%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Rubio’s biggest clash was with Rand Paul over his proposal to increase defense spending by $1 trillion, with Rubio deriding him as a “committed isolationist.” He had another big moment when he said that Islamist terrorists do not hate the U.S. just because of its support for Israel, but because of its values such as allowing women to drive.
Rubio called for countering Russian influence in the Middle East and described Putin as an organized crime figure.
Rubio is in third place nationally with a polling average of 12%, a 3-point increase since the last debate. He is in third in Iowa with 13% (3-point increase); third in New Hampshire with 10% (2-point increase) and tied with Cruz for third in South Carolina with 10% (2-point increase).
Cruz shined during the discussion about increasing the defense budget by saying there’s a middle path where the cost is paid for by cutting government spending on programs like subsidies. He said, “If you think defending the country is expensive, try not defending it.”
Cruz is in fourth place nationally with a polling average of 10%. He is in fourth place in Iowa with 12%; in sixth place in New Hampshire with 7% and tied with Rubio for third place in South Carolina with 10%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Bush said that Islamic terrorism is the biggest threat with the Islamic State caliphate growing to the size of Indiana. Bush supports using the U.S. military to implement a no-fly zone over Syria and arming the remnants of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of “moderate” Syrian rebels. He said that creating safe zones inside Syria would stem the flow of refugees.
Bush is in fifth place nationally with a polling average of 6%. He is in fifth place in Iowa (6%); fifth place in New Hampshire (7%) and fifth place in South Carolina (7%). You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Paul spoke out the strongest against having the U.S. military impose a no-fly zone over Syria (which he mistakenly referred to as Iraq) and pointed out that Russia already owns the skies over the country. He said that supporters of a no-fly zone would have to be willing to shoot down Russian aircraft and to send their children to possibly die in another Middle East war.
He also blamed his competitors who support arming “moderate” Syrian rebels for contributing to the rise of ISIS. Paul pointed out that the rebels are allies of Al-Qaeda.
He criticized Rubio’s plan for a $1 trillion increase in military spending, mentioning that the U.S. defense budget is more than the next 10 countries combined. Rubio responded by calling him a “committed isolationist.” He criticized Fiorina for saying she would not speak to Russian President Putin, at least for awhile.
Paul is tied for sixth place nationally with Fiorina and Kasich at 3% in the polling average. He is in 11th place in Iowa with 2%; ninth place in New Hampshire with 3% and 10th place in South Carolina with 1%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Kasich spoke in favor of a no-fly zone along the Turkish and Jordanian borders that could potentially shoot down Russian aircraft if there were multiple violations. He would also counter Russia by providing weapons to Ukraine and working with Finland and the Baltic States.
Kasich said he would end all public criticism of Israel and be committed to keeping the Jordanian monarchy in power “for 1,000 years.” He praised Egypt as a “moderate” force along with Bahrain. He would demand that Saudi Arabia stop its funding of radical clerics around the world, but continue to work with the Saudis in areas of mutual interest.
He also would have a policy of responding to cyber attacks with retaliation to destroy the attacker’s mechanisms.
Kasich is tied for sixth place nationally with Paul and Fiorina at 3%. He is in 10th place in Iowa with 2%; fourth place in New Hampshire with 9% and seventh place in South Carolina with 2%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Fiorina clashed with Rand Paul when she said she would not talk to Putin, but then clarified to say she’d be willing to speak to Russia after a period of time where strength had been established. She expressed support for a no-fly zone over Syria and for providing increased aid to Arab allies to fight the Islamic State.
Fiorina said that Jordanian King Abdullah has been denied requests for bombs and material aid and Egypt has been denied intelligence-sharing and that she’d grant both. She would grant requests for arms to the Kurds and ally with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well.
To pressure Russia, she would rebuild the 6th Fleet, assemble anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland, conduct military exercises in the Baltic States and possibly send a few thousand troops to Germany.
Fiorina is tied for sixth place nationally with Paul and Kasich at 3%. She is in sixth place in Iowa at 5%; seventh in New Hampshire with 6% and sixth in South Carolina with 4%. You can read our factsheet on her stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Huckabee’s brightest moment came when he was discussing the Syrian refugee crisis. He said that only one of five refugees in Europe is actually Syrian and accepting large amounts of is a security and economic risk.
Huckabee said the U.S. should instead provide humanitarian aid to the refugees to keep them closer to their home, instead of bringing them into America where they may have trouble assimilating. He is open to accepting refugees who are fully vetted.
He blamed the administration’s Middle East strategy for creating the refugee crisis and allowing Christians to be slaughtered and not helping the Kurds enough. Huckabee said he’d pressure neighbors like Saudi Arabia to take care of the situation.
Huckabee is tied with Christie for ninth place nationally at 2%. He is in eighth place in Iowa with 3%; 12th place in New Hampshire with less than 1% and eighth place in South Carolina with 2%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Christie’s biggest moment on security came when he discussed how he’d respond to cyber attacks from adversaries like China. Christie said he is a victim of Chinese hacking and that they stole his social security number and fingerprints when they hacked into governmental personnel data.
Under his administration, “They’re going to see cyber warfare like they have never seen before” if they did it again. Christie would respond by hacking into the Chinese government and publishing incriminating information like corruption for its population to see. This is a policy that Christie would presumably apply to other countries involved in cyber attacks on the U.S. like Iran and North Korea.
Christie is tied with Huckabee for ninth place nationally at 2%. He is in ninth place in Iowa with 3%; eighth place in New Hampshire with 5% (a 2-point increase) and 11th place in South Carolina with 1%.
Jindal made no significant statements regarding national security policy.
Jindal is tied with Santorum for 11th place nationally with 1%. He is in seventh place in Iowa with 3%; tenth in New Hampshire with less than 1% and 13th place in South Carolina with less than 1%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Santorum made no significant statements regarding national security policy.
Santorum is tied with Jindal for 11th place nationally with 1%. He is in 12th place in Iowa with 1%; 13th place in New Hampshire with less than 1% and 12th place in South Carolina with 1%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
Graham did not qualify for either debate, but commented online during the event. He mocked Rand Paul for opposing increases to the defense budget, saying that the Army is on track to be the smallest it’s been since 1940 and the Navy will be the smallest since 1945.
Graham also made some interesting comments about Egypt. He said that “so goes Egypt, so goes the Middle East,” and that he would help President El-Sisi confront radical Islam but pressure him to avoid strong-arm tactics to maintain power and to permit free press and rule of law.
“To win the war against radical Islam, there has to be economic and social justice,” Graham wrote online.
Graham is in 14th place nationally with less than 1%. He is in 13thplace in Iowa with less than 1%; 15th place in New Hampshire with less than 1% and ninth place in South Carolina with 2%. You can read our factsheet on his stances related to Islamist extremism here.
George Pataki & Jim Gilmore
You can read the Clarion Project’s factsheets on each candidate’s positions related to Islamist extremism here.
ABOUT RYAN MAURO
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’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.