Politics: Republicans Reveal Discord in Debate Over Dictators

A sharp move away from the adventurous foreign policy of George W. Bush

by Mark Thompson

Republican presidential candidates revealed just how far the Republican Party has moved in the decade since President George W. Bush called for spreading democratic principles through the Middle East, sometimes by force. Much of Tuesday’s debate focused on the role the U.S. has played in toppling them in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Libya—and trying to force out Bashar Assad in Syria—since the terror attacks of 9/11. The certainty that most dictators are bad, not just for their people but for American interests, was no longer a given for Republican candidates, as the U.S. struggles with militants exploiting the vacuums left behind by toppled authoritarian states.

“If you believe in regime change, you’re mistaken,” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said during the Las Vegas debate.

“We keep hearing from President Obama and Hillary Clinton and Washington Republicans that they’re searching for these mythical moderate rebels,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas complained. “It’s like a purple unicorn—they never exist. These moderate rebels end up being jihadists.”

Cruz said that the White House “and, unfortunately, more than a few Republicans” have made ridding the world of megalomaniacs like Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years until he was ousted and killed in 2011, more important than keeping Americans safe. “We were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over,” Cruz said. “Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.” Much the same thing happened in Egypt, he claimed, when “the Obama Administration, encouraged by Republicans,” ousted longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, and is happening again in Syria.

“We need to learn from history,” Cruz said. “Assad is a bad man. Gaddafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us—at least Gadhafi and Mubarak—in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.” If Assad is removed, “the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests.”

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who pushed for Gaddafi’s ouster, saidrealpolitik sometimes requires distasteful partners. “We will have to work around the world with less than ideal governments,” he said, citing Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which caused heartburn in Amman and Riyadh.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson said “the Middle East has been in turmoil for thousands of years,” and the idea that U.S. military involvement will straighten things out is misguided: “No one is ever better off with dictators but…we need to start thinking about the needs of the American people before we go and solve everybody else’s problems.”

Jeb Bush said toppling Saddam Hussein—a 2003 war initiated by his brother, President George W. Bush—was a good thing. But he added that its key lesson is that the U.S. must have “a strategy to get out” and leave a “stable situation” behind. That has never been a U.S. strength. Invasions are quick, easy and relatively cheap compared to the decades-long push to try to rebuild a more moderate nation to replace a dictatorship. Americans may dislike war, but they dislike pumping billions to rebuild shattered counties even more.

Paul agreed that it’s the what-comes-next question that has dogged U.S. policy since 9/11. “Out of regime change you get chaos,” he said. “From the chaos you have seen repeatedly the rise of radical Islam.” The issue is one of “the fundamental questions of our time,” and not necessarily black and white. “I don’t think because I think the [Iraq] regime change was a bad idea,” Paul said, “it means that Hussein was necessarily a good idea.”

For generations, the U.S. fought left-wing dictators (Fidel Castro in Cuba, for example) while bolstering right-wing autocrats (Augusto Pinochet in Chile). This was largely because of the Cold War, where leftist regimes allied themselves with the Soviet Union, and rightist ones cozied up to the U.S. But it has been 25 years since the Soviet Union’s demise. That’s unleashed all sorts of local tensions, ranging from nationalist to religious, that the Cold War had kept largely tamped down.

Nowhere has that energy exploded as quickly and violently as in the so-called arc of crisis stretching from northern Africa, through the Middle East, and on to the Central Asian states. Fueled by the nearly 1,500-year split between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, the collapsing regimes have entangled the U.S. in civil and religious wars and triggered the rise of terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.

“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people,” Donald Trump said, referring to the eventual total price tag of the Afghan and Iraq wars. “It’s not like we had victory—it’s a mess.” While the debate over the pros and cons of backing—or, at least, not attacking—dictators will continue, no one on stage challenged Trump’s accounting.


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Debate Shows G.O.P. Race’s Volatility as Ted Cruz Holds Steady

By MATT FLEGENHEIMER & JONATHAN MARTIN – NYTimes

[Ashley Parker contributed reporting from New York.]

Senator Ted Cruz emerged from Tuesday night’s Republican debate later largely unscathed, weathering attacks from Senator Marco Rubio, avoiding them from Donald J. Trump and giving little reason to doubt that his rise among Tea Party and evangelical voters will continue.

The Texas senator’s steady performance in the debate seemed likely to solidify his ascendant standing in Iowa, where he has surpassed Mr. Trump in some recent polls.

While the candidates pressed their cases in interviews on Wednesday and prepared to set off on the last stretch of campaigning before a likely holiday lull, the debate seemed to confirm the volatility of the race in New Hampshire and beyond, adding little clarity as to which man or woman might emerge as the favorite among center-right Republicans.

Mr. Trump, who leads in national polls, slogged through an uneven night, though forgettable debate performances have in the past had little effect on his support. Perhaps most notably, Mr. Trump resisted repeating past criticisms of Mr. Cruz during the debate and in interviews afterward. For days before the debate, Mr. Trump had assailed Mr. Cruz, who questioned the billionaire’s judgment at a private fund-raiser last week but who has remained publicly deferential. Yet Mr. Trump cast aside any strategic imperative to halt Mr. Cruz’s momentum in Iowa, continuing his habit of holding fire on somebody unwilling to attack him first onstage.

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Donald J. Trump, center, repeating past criticisms of Ted Cruz, right, during the debate and in interviews afterward. (Credit: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

“I just think he didn’t say anything that I particularly disagreed with,” Mr. Trump told CNN after the debate.

After facing two forces to which he is unaccustomed — an often unsympathetic crowd and an effectively pugnacious Jeb Bush — Mr. Trump planned on Wednesday to return to his campaign comfort zone with a midday rally in Mesa, Ariz.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, appeared energized, beating rivals to the cable airwaves from Las Vegas in a slew of interviews around 4 a.m. Pacific time.

After appearing to irritate Mr. Trump in a series of exchanges during the debate, a triumph that bordered on catharsis for many supporters of his long-languishing campaign, Mr. Bush and his team moved quickly to convince donors that he was seizing the momentum from his pointed attacks on the developer.

“I don’t think he’s a serious candidate — I don’t know why others don’t feel compelled to point that out, but I did,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday on CNN, adding, “Donald Trump is not going to be president of the United States by insulting every group on the planet, insulting women, P.O.W.s, war heroes, Hispanics, disabled, African-Americans.”

Mr. Bush’s performance on Tuesday was particularly sweet for a campaign whose candidate had flubbed a memorable confrontation with Mr. Rubio in a previous debate.

“We know debates do matter,” Sally Bradshaw, one of Mr. Bush’s top advisers, told donors on a conference call immediately after the debate. “We have seen the downside of that. I think we can celebrate tonight that we’ll see the upside of that.”

Mr. Bush, who was scheduled to hold a private gathering with supporters in Nevada on Wednesday, now finds himself tussling on two fronts in New Hampshire, a state increasingly viewed as decisive for his fortunes: In addition to Mr. Trump, Mr. Bush must contend with establishment favorites like Mr. Rubio and Gov. Chris Christie, who had another strong showing on Tuesday and who has been rising in polls in the state, which holds the nation’s first primary, on Feb. 9.

There is also Gov. John Kasich, whose “super PACwas to begin running ads in New Hampshire on Wednesday criticizing Mr. Christie’s fiscal record. It is at once an acknowledgment of Mr. Christie’s renewed strength there and a signal of that state primary’s present chaos.

“For the jumbled-up establishment lane, it’s now even more congested,” said Matt Strawn, a former Iowa Republican chairman. “And Cruz’s lane is totally clear.”

Mr. Rubio, coming off another broadly well-received debate performance, plans to appear on Wednesday at rallies in both Iowa and New Hampshire. For the second consecutive debate, the focus afterward centered in large measure on Mr. Rubio and the party’s approach to immigration policy.

Mr. Cruz, who has since the last debate repeatedly highlighted Mr. Rubio’s past support for bipartisan immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship, sought in television interviews to tie the Florida senator’s position to recent terror threats.

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Jeb Bush with his wife, Columba, after the debate. (Credit: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

“This is one of the first times we really discussed how the Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan would have endangered our national security,” Mr. Cruz said on Fox News, referring to Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat. (Mr. Rubio, appearing Wednesday on Fox News, also invoked the liberal senator while criticizing Mr. Cruz’s support for limits on surveillance programs, saying Mr. Cruz had “aligned himself with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer and the A.C.L.U. and every other liberal group in America.”)

Mr. Cruz told CNN that the confrontations with Mr. Rubio were unsurprising because “Senator Rubio’s campaign has been running attack ads against me, and I think they’re concerned” at the prospect of conservatives’ uniting around Mr. Cruz.

But Mr. Rubio’s campaign has reveled since the debate in what it saw as a mealy-mouthed response from Mr. Cruz to a question about whether he could support legal status for people in the country illegally.

“I have never supported legalization,” Mr. Cruz said, countering a claim from Mr. Rubio, “and I do not intend to support legalization.”

Mr. Rubio’s communications director, Alex Conant, said on Twitter, “After this debate, I don’t intend to celebrate too much.”

Michael Meyers, a veteran Republican strategist, said that Mr. Rubio “proved he could handle some punches” on a night when Mr. Cruz and Senator Rand Paul often teamed up to knock him. But Mr. Rubio, Mr. Meyers added, “didn’t prove he could really sting Cruz.”

The Cruz-Rubio dynamic appears to be growing more confrontational beyond the debate stage, as well. Republicans in Iowa this week received their first piece of mail from Mr. Rubio’s super PAC criticizing Mr. Cruz for his vote to limit the National Security Agency’s metadata program. (Mr. Cruz has said an alternative program had, in fact, strengthened the country’s ability to fight terrorism.)

“These men undermined our intelligence agencies’ ability to stop terrorist attacks,” the mailer reads, below a photo of Mr. Cruz, Mr. Paul, President Obama and Senator Harry Reid.

Yet in a sign of how reluctant the candidates and their allies are to imperil their own prospects by going aggressively negative, the literature points to the efforts of Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, not Mr. Rubio, to protect robust surveillance laws.

For others, the debate — the last major scheduled event for Republican candidates this year — prompted fresh questions about the viability of their campaigns.

Carly Fiorina, appearing Wednesday on CNN, chafed at a remark about her struggles in the polls. “Oh wow, you’re like declaring an end to my candidacy,” she said. “I think we’re just getting started.”

Minutes later, Senator Lindsey Graham, who was considered a standout by many in the so-called undercard debate of lower-polling candidates, made a pitch to viewers after a questioner noted that he was funny.

“I am hilarious — send money, if you want to keep me in this race,” he said, adding, “I’m not speaking again until somebody sends $100,000.”

Donald Trump’s Powerful Ignorance

And four other lessons from Tuesday night’s Republican debate

Here are five things I noticed in last night’s debate:

 

1. Donald Trump has made fools of us all.

The consensus among the talking heads afterward was that Trump had done fine, maybe helped himself a little, certainly hadn’t hurt himself with his constituency. What were they watching? By any objective standard, Trump had a terrible debate. He said nothing substantive. He made faces–elementary-school faces—when he was attacked. He displayed his powerful ignorance: He had no idea what Hugh Hewitt was talking about when he was asked about the “nuclear triad.” This really is presidential politics for dummies: Control and use of our nuclear arsenal is perhaps the most serious presidential responsibility. Nuclear weapons are deployed in three ways—in land-based silos, in submarines, by aircraft. Three ways. The nuclear triad. This guy is running for president without the most basic vocabulary about weapons that could destroy the world. I suppose this doesn’t matter to his nitwit constituency—but it should. And if that constituency becomes a majority of our electorate, we are truly cooked. That the talking heads think Trump did okay because he didn’t offend his supporters represents journalistic malpractice…but I guess we’ve all been burned by predicting Trump’s demise in the past. The fact that he survives doesn’t make him any less disastrous.

2. Senators Cruz and Rubio lost when they were right.


Their mini-debate was fun to watch. Both are intelligent and articulate—although I think Cruz has a better strategic sense of what he is doing and is running the smarter campaign. It is a testament to the current incoherence of the Republican constituency that each man’s “weakness” was actually a strength. Rubio was entirely candid about immigration. He offered a realistic solution to the problem—but his solution does not involve the deportation of 12 million illegals and so he lost that particular debate to Cruz, who summoned the newly terrifying spectra of Chuck Schumer and called the plan “amnesty.” For his part, Cruz is absolutely right to be wary about “regime change” in the Middle East. It’s been a disaster. But that won’t help him in a party where neoconservatives now control the foreign policy debate.

3. The Governors won.


In fact, Chris Christie put both Cruz and Rubio in their place when he said after a Cruz-Rubio exchange: “If your eyes are glazed over like mine, this is what it is like to be on the floor of the United States Senate…I mean endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who have never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position.” Christie’s toughness is an informed version of Trump’s posturing. It is simple, compelling, and probably not as dangerous as it sounds–asked if he would shoot down Russian planes if they violated a Syrian no-fly zone, he said yes. This is the sort of tough talk that Ronald Reagan deployed successfully…while simultaneously signaling to the Soviets that he was ready to negotiate seriously with them. The will to bluster was the difference between Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It’s the difference between Christie and Jeb Bush. Both Bushes were better informed than their rivals, but less given to melodrama–although, over time, according to Jon Meacham’s biography of Bush the Elder, even HW came to appreciate the role Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric played as a negotiating tool. (Jeb Bush had some very good moments in the debate, directly attacking and flustering Trump–but he has too much respect for the process, is responsible to the point of abstraction in his answers and his opening and closing statements were close to incomprehensible.)

4. The others lost.


Carly Fiorina’s act has grown old. Rand Paul is smart, and generally reasonable on foreign policy, but he belongs to a different party than the Republicans. As Michael Scherer pointed out in his reliably sharp minute-by-minute account of the debate, John Kasich was done in by his spastic karate chop hand motions–he may been the first candidate I’ve ever seen who was rendered incoherent by his own body language. Ben Carson offered a moment of silence for the San Bernardino victims; he has never belonged on this stage–but then, neither has Trump–and Carson, at least, wreaths his presidential incompetence in dignity.

5. Fact Check.


Three persistent errors or elisions should be pointed out. The first is the matter of the defense cuts–the Republican party agreed to these as part of a deficit reduction maneuver called the sequester, because it opposed the tax increases (or loophole closing) necessary to make an actual deal with the Democrats. The GOP thereby showed its priorities: low taxes were more important than national security–a point that Hillary Clinton will doubtless make in the fall (although I’m not so sure that defense spending on weapons we don’t need–i.e. more ships–will increase our security). Second, the much ballyhooed “flood” of illegal immigrants doesn’t exist; indeed, the numbers of illegals crossing the border have declined drastically during the Obama years. Third, Iran will get sanctions relief–an estimated $100 to $120 billion–only after it complies with the nuclear agreement and destroys its enriched uranium stockpile, dismantles 75% of its centrifuges and makes other significant concessions. If Iran doesn’t do those things, there will be no sanctions relief.

11:36 AM ET via TIME


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The Winners of the CNN Republican Debate

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Source: CNN (Posted by FORBES)

Washington (CNN) – Republican presidential candidates sought to cement — or improve — their standings in a debate Tuesday night that comes less than two months before the first votes of the election season are cast.

The CNN debate in Las Vegas marked the first time the White House hopefuls shared a stage since terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. They flashed their foreign policy credentials and targeted each others’ weaknesses in the debate that lasted more than two hours and focused exclusively on foreign policy and national security.

The result of the showdown: Some winners, and some losers.

The Winners

Jeb Bush

The former Florida governor walked onto the CNN debate stage on Tuesday facing a make-or-break moment for his struggling campaign.

Polling at about 3% nationally, pundits had low expectations for Bush. But he was able to make the most of the moment and his performance will likely reassure skittish donors and supporters who have doubted him.

Appearing confident, Bush repeatedly engaged front-runner Donald Trump and at times flustered the real estate mogul. Unlike previous debates where he has backed off, Bush didn’t relent in the face of Trump’s return fire.

“If you think this is tough and you’re not being treated fairly, imagine what it’s going to be like dealing with Putin or dealing with President Xi or dealing with the Islamic terrorism that exists,” Bush said over Trump’s persistent interruptions.

CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish said after the debate that Bush “turned in a strong performance” with his ability to repeatedly needle Trump.

“Jeb had a good night,” he said.

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Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks as former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush (R) and Texas Sen.Ted Cruz (C) look on during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN. (Photo Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Ted Cruz

The tea party favorite avoided a cage match with front-runner Donald Trump in favor of a sparring match with Rubio.

Cruz and Trump have largely avoided skirmishes on the campaign trail but that ended in recent days as the Texas senator’s standing improves in Iowa.

Former Mitt Romney aide and current CNN political commentator Kevin Madden said Cruz’s strategy of avoiding confrontation on the debate stage was effective.

“I think the strategy Cruz has is working, bear hugging Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump does not feel antagonized,” he said.

While Cruz didn’t give viewers anything like the fiery and memorable soundbites his supporters savored in the last debate, the Texas senator gave a strong performance sure to please his base. And by taking aim at — and holding his ground against — Rubio, Cruz did nothing to stall his burgeoning momentum.

Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a front-runner’s performance, as he parried blows from all sides in the crowded field.

Rubio worked to stay above the fray of candidates, focusing on showing off his in-depth understanding of foreign policy and deflecting the attacks his competitors hurled his way. The Florida senator, though engaged in heated exchanges with Cruz and Rand Paul at times, mostly sought to flex his hawkish national security positions rather than attack his competitors.

When prompted to address Trump’s proposal to bar foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. — which Rubio opposes — or to address his recent criticism of Cruz, Rubio didn’t bite. Instead, the Florida senator used the opportunity to speak at length about foreign policy concerns and his own proposals — or to attacking President Barack Obama’s administration.

Donald Trump

As the real estate mogul has done in recent debates, Donald Trump offered a measured performance stylistically different from the fiery stump speeches he delivers at rallies to supporters. And the typically confrontational businessman largely avoided tangling with his fellow contenders.

It was a safe performance for Trump, but it’s one that certainly won’t deter his supporters and won’t do anything to hurt his front-runner status.

CNN political commentator David Axelrod, a former top Obama adviser, said that while Trump didn’t meet the bar on facts and “linear thinking,” he was “in character.”

“I think he probably did what he needed to do,” Axelrod said, adding that it didn’t hurt that few of the candidates to Trump’s right and left were “eager to tangle” with the front-runner.

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Associated Press / John Lochner

Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s goal on Tuesday was to try and further his recent rise in stock in the early primary state of New Hampshire, where talk of national security has boosted the former federal prosecutor.

Christie managed to poke at the three senators in the race by lamenting the tit-for-tat debates Cruz, Rubio and Paul engaged in. The governor continued to play to his executive experience and his prosecutions of terrorism cases as a U.S. attorney.

In one of his strongest moments, Christie slammed the senators on stage as “people who’ve never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position” and proclaimed that voters were looking for “a president who actually knows what they’re doing.”

CNN political commentator Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter, noted that like Trump, Christie “was delivering a message” on stage rather than getting too “in the weeds” on policy.

Content Originally Written and Published By Jeremy Diamond, CNN

Ex-Sheriff’s Deputy in Ohio, Indicted in 2 Fatal Shootings, Is Released on Bond by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A former deputy in Pike County who was indicted in an on-duty episode involving a fleeing driver and an off-duty shooting of the former deputy’s neighbor was released after turning himself in, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general said.

Published: December 13, 2015 at 12:00AM

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