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GOP Undercard Debate: U.S. in Danger of Another 9/11

GOP Undercard Debate

The candidates in the early debate claim President Obama hasn't done enough to fight terrorism, but they also decry Donald Trump's call to keep Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.


Taking place just weeks after the attacks in Paris and California, and on a day when Los Angeles schools closed due to a bomb threat, the Republican presidential undercard debate today in Las Vegas was full of warnings about another 9/11 coming to the U.S.

"They're coming here to kill us all," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group variously abbreviated as ISIS or ISIL, and also known as Daesh. The group has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in November, and the attackers in San Bernardino, Calif., were reportedly ISIS sympathizers. Without U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS, "the next 9/11" is coming to the U.S., Graham said.

The four low-polling candidates in the national security-focused undercard debate -- Graham, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former New York Gov. George Pataki -- were unanimous in their assertion that President Obama has not done enough to fight ISIS (despite the numerous air strikes he has ordered), and they did not trust Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton to handle the fight either.

They differed on how many ground troops to commit to the fight and who should take the lead, the U.S. or its Middle Eastern allies. But they were clear in their belief that Obama has weakened the U.S. militarily.

Huckabee, for one, accused Obama of being more worried about climate change than defeating ISIS. The former governor called for the U.S. to become a net exporter of fossil fuels, so that ISIS will not be able to use Middle Eastern natural resources to fund its work. "I think people bombing us is a bigger enemy than the temperature change over several hundred years," he said.

Democrats weren't the only ones coming in for criticism, though. The quartet decried Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's call to bar all Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.

Trump's rhetoric is playing into ISIS's hands by declaring war on all of Islam, Graham said. "This is a coup for them, and to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the king of Jordan and the president of Egypt," he said.

Pataki likened Trump to the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century. "Donald Trump is the Know-Nothing candidate of the 21st century and cannot be our nominee," he said.

Santorum was more sympathetic to Trump. "He brings up a legitimate issue," Santorum said. "The fact of the matter is not all Muslims are jihadists and no one, including, I suspect, Donald Trump, would say that. But the reality is, all jihadists are Muslims. ... We have to stop worrying about offending some people and start defending all Americans."

Domestic social issues did not surface much in the debate, given the focus on national security, although the notably antigay Huckabee got in a dig about those worried about the religious freedom of Muslims telling him how to be a Christian. He also said there would be nothing wrong with having intelligence officers visit mosques and listen to sermons to see if radical beliefs are being preached, as religious services are open to the public.

The candidates also generally opposed the idea of admitting refugees into the U.S. from Syria, saying there's no way to adequately vet them to see if any ISIS sympathizers are among them. If we admit 60,000 refugees and one in 1,000 is a terrorist, we can't take that risk, Pataki said.

They also called for a military buildup, with Huckabee saying there needs to be a measure like a modern G.I. Bill to offer Americans an incentive for joining the armed forces.

On the recent Defense Department decision to open all combat positions to women, if they meet the same standards as men, Santorum accused officials of ignoring studies about what jobs women can do, although he said he'd accept women in positions for which they qualify.

Pataki responded, "We're not radical Islam -- we want to give women the opportunity to do whatever they're capable of doing. Graham added that his message to women in the military is "If you want to kill terrorists, I'm your man."

Find a debate transcript via The Washington Post, and commentary via And check back to The Advocate for coverage of the mainstage debate.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.