The Las Vegas Republican debate Tuesday night was downright bloodthirsty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz promised no fewer than six times to “kill” ISIS forces, including by carpet bombing. “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists,” Cruz said. “We will utterly destroy ISIS.”
Not to be outdone, Donald Trump defended his proposal to kill the families of terrorists — notwithstanding Sen. Rand Paul’s observation that this would “defy every norm that is America” and violate international law. With truly Trumpy logic, the GOP frontrunner replied, “So, they can kill us? But we can’t kill them?”
But the greatest offense of the evening was perpetrated by the host network. CNN, in a debate focused on national security and foreign policy, failed to ask a single question about the world historic accord reached last weekend by nearly 200 nations in Paris to reduce the world’s greenhouse emissions.
Instead, moderator Wolf Blitzer provided a platform for the GOP candidates to uncork frightening — and unfathomably expensive — proposals for the United States to take the fight to ISIS, and Syria, and Russia, and China, and North Korea, and, well, you get the idea.
The bellicosity of the policy proposals quickly spilled over into the language of the debate itself. This was the last prime-time battle of 2015, and the candidates seemed determined to inflict damage with caustic one-liners. Most desperate was Jeb Bush, who aimed his bombast, squarely and repeatedly, at the frontrunning Trump.
Here the nine most severe burns of the debate.
1. Jeb Bush, contrasting his knowledge base to Trump’s cartoonish foreign policy experience: “I won’t get my information from the shows,” Bush said, insinuating that’s where Trump bones up on world affairs. “I don’t know if that’s Saturday morning or Sunday morning.”
2. Bush painted Trump as the chaos muppet of the GOP contenders: “Donald is great at the one-liners,” Bush said, “but he’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.”
3. Bush also hit Trump for his signature style (which Jeb! himself was eagerly aping): “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” Bush said, “That’s not going to happen.”
4. Trump returned fire when pressed on whether he’d be able to stand up to world leaders: “I wish it was always as easy as you Jeb,” he said, adding with acid irony: “Real tough, real tough… I’m at 42 [percent in the polls], you’re at 3!”
5. An unusually aggressive Rand Paul threw several roundhouses at Rubio, hitting him as soft on border security: “He’s the weakest of all the candidates on immigration. He is the one for an open border that is leaving us defenseless,” Paul said. “Marco has more of an allegiance to [Democratic New York Sen.] Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy.”
6. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chided his Capitol competitors with a heavy dose of Senate hate as Cruz and Rubio squabbled over legislative details: “If your eyes are glazing over like mine, this is what it’s 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’ve never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position,” Christie said. “They continue to debate about this bill and in the subcommittee and what – nobody in America cares about that.”
7. Dr. Ben Carson, discussing his career performing surgery on nervous children, hit Trump with a back-handed burn about his high self-esteem: “You should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor,” Carson said. “They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.” Waiting a pregnant beat, and looking directly at Trump, Carson added, “I sound like him.”
8. Christie got in the best body blow at President Obama when he promised to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria against all hostile forces: “Yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now,” Christie said.
9. Paul, the lonely isolationist, was quick with a rejoinder to Christie: “I think if you’re in favor of World War III,” he said, “you have your candidate.”