The Real Winners and Losers in the Debates

Vladimir Putin

A lot of mention has been made of late as to who is benefitting the most from their debate performances, and who is damaged irreparably. Amidst the entertainment of the fiasco that has been the debate cycle, in both parties, there are unseen winners and losers.

 

The Loser: US Foreign Policy

 

Despite the increasingly dire threats facing the United States abroad, a growing refugee crisis and the backlash from the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, foreign policy largely sits on the backburner. Yes, the rhetoric surrounding taking the fight has been intense and widespread amongst most of the candidates. However, this is all that presently exists, and the American voter seems to be far more interested in the smoothest talker, and not the most qualified Commander in Chief.

As each day of the campaign drags on, likely primary voters appear to draw their motives from public issue statements, rather than any meaningful record of accomplishments. The polls are reflecting this. The candidates gaining both the most traction and media attention have very little, if any, foreign policy prowess on which they can draw to justify becoming the next Commander in Chief of the armed forces during this incredibly crucial time.

Republicans Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the two undeniable leaders in almost every recent poll, have nearly zero experience in any political field. Trump touts his negotiating experience as a point of pride for his foreign policy credentials. His outlandish, macho talking points have allowed him to soar in the polls despite lacking versed stances on any events in which a foreign entity, like ISIS, would have no interest or reason to negotiate. Then, of course, there is Carson, who has publicly admitted he is actively studying foreign policy on the campaign trail and has struggled to fend off reports that members inside his campaign “coach” him on foreign policy basics.

After the steep polling drop-off from the two distinct frontrunners, we have the class of three young senators: Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). These senators have gained a lot of influence within the party, especially within the younger demographic the GOP desperately needs to reach. But, what does it mean for foreign policy?

Senator Rubio has laid out a strong, clear plan for strengthening the military and re-establishing American influence abroad. However, his attendance record in the Senate has been increasingly, and perhaps justifiably, called into question. Could President Rubio adequately handle international relations as president when he couldn’t dedicate time to hash out these issues as a Senator? There’s also the fact that Rubio attacked Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for “knowing nothing about enhanced interrogation.” Senator McCain was a prisoner of war in Viet Nam and lost most of the function in his arms due to the torture he endured there.

Senator Cruz largely joins Rubio in advocating for a strong national defense. Cruz’s vision, if implemented, would be a large benefit to the United States’ standing in the world. However, he has stated he would use overwhelming force to achieve American objectives, but not dedicate resources to “nation build” in the aftermath. This threatens to cause even more instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and reflects the issue with inexperienced leadership.

There is always the interesting case of discussing foreign policy with the Paul family. Senator Paul, as well as his father, former presidential candidate Ron Paul, blames American involvement in foreign affairs for many of the world’s problems. Paul’s non-interventionist vision also threatens to harm American integrity abroad and threatens our relationship with Israel by sacrificing the ability for the United States to influence global decisions.

No discussion of US foreign policy would be complete, however, without the mention of the name Bush. President George W’s little brother, former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, is trying to take over in a world that has largely rejected the Bush doctrine of foreign policy. This has also been harmed by Jeb’s unwillingness to reject his brother’s shortcomings and his fumbling many questions on the subject.

The rising tide of candidates, who have very poor foreign policy credentials, has only been compounded by the debate process marginalizing or eliminating the best candidates this cycle has to offer in terms of foreign policy. And, no, despite being Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) does not fall into this group. Her lack of notable accomplishments in that role and the fact that foreign relations failed to improve during her time there keeps her out of that upper echelon.

Conversely, despite his vast experience, former Governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore, never had a shot in this race. What chances he had were eliminated by being excluded from all but one of the debate thus far. However, Gilmore logged years of service in the Army in West Germany in the 1970s, and was a former counterintelligence agent. He also has run or founded various councils within the Department of Homeland Security dedicated to security policy. His governorship of Virginia also coincided with the attacks of 9/11, which hit the Pentagon, in Arlington, VA. Unfortunately, this process blocks voters from access to his knowledge and experience.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) also has military experience in the Air Force and was the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He created millions of jobs in a huge economy, and has experience dealing with external competition. He’s also had experience dealing with the immigration crisis at the Texas border, which he deployed the Texas National Guard to combat. His campaign had huge support within the armed service community, but, after being relegated to the lower tier debate, he never caught momentum.

Another Senator who receives fairly little mention in this process is Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He also served in the Air Force and logged over 20 years of military service. He now serves on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate and has been endorsed by the aforementioned Senator McCain. Graham, due to low coverage and polling, has never made the top tier debates and was excluded altogether from the most recent one.

Finally, perhaps the most qualified Commander in Chief of all the candidates does not come from the Republican pool at all. Former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) was a decorated Viet Nam War veteran, including two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy under the Reagan administration. Webb has further articulated clear knowledge of foreign policy and had a strong record of accomplishments during his term in the Senate. However, he received paltry speaking time in the only Democratic debate before he dropped out.

 

Winner: Vladimir Putin

 

The way this process has, thus far, marginalized legitimate foreign policy perspectives has paved the way for Vladimir Putin’s full ascension into the position of most powerful man in the world.

Putin has helped re-establish Russia as a dominant world force and has been ardent in his fighting of ISIS and radical Islamic forces in the Middle East. The Obama administration’s reluctance to take an active role has allowed Putin to maximize his influence.

The United States has helped embolden Russian leaders by pushing NATO right up to the Russian borders during the Bill Clinton administration. There is nothing wrong with NATO expansion, and given the time, it was a useful tool to deter future Russian aggression into former Soviet bloc states. It was used again by President Bush (43) to add the Baltic states to the alliance.

However, during these administrations, America displayed an active foreign policy, and projected strength. Therefore, these NATO expansions can be seen as strategic moves to maintain global influence. On the other hand, if America projects weakness, and retreats in influence, an advocacy for NATO expansion can be seen as nothing other than a symbolic move and unnecessarily antagonistic towards Russia.

Putin has seen this American weakness in policies like Hillary’s “reset” during her time as Secretary of State, where she initiated a unilateral easing of tensions and relaxing of US policy towards Russia, in hopes of making deals with then-President Dmitri Medvedev. It only projected weakness and galvanized Russian ambitions.

Now, Putin assumes a vast amount of influence on the world stage and the only credible threat to that unilateral influence would be a strong American leader. Symbolic moves like the expansion of NATO without any strategic objectives in mind, only projects weakness, and also gives Putin a rationalization for more rash actions that he knows the US would not be willing to back up.

Despite various assertions, Vladimir Putin is not an unreasonable or evil man. He has been both inspired and encouraged by reckless assertions on the part of US leaders and by their lack of strength when it comes to pressing international issues. He is an international actor responding to changing international conditions in order to increase his influence and leverage globally.

This makes him an undeniable threat to American influence abroad, and to America itself. We need a strong national leader to take on Putin’s advances head-on.

The dearth of credible Commanders in Chief in our presidential race and the rhetoric that has been spewed during this cycle will score as a victory for Putin who will continue to increase Russian influence while he takes on ISIS and threatens territorial expansion. He will receive no backlash from a United States that seems content to elect a leader who cannot adequately challenge his advances or be respected in an international context.

Saying “No” to Syrian Refugees: Conservatism or Xenophobia?

As of today, 31 governors in the United States oppose sheltering Syrian refugees. All but one them are Republican governors. Based on this alone, it seems as though conservatives in general are opposed to helping other human beings who are in need. The rationale behind this opposition appears logical at first glance. By preventing Syrian refugees from entering the United States, the government would protect people from terrorists posing as refugees. This would somehow ensure national security and protect the American people and their values from the onslaught of radical terrorists. What can get more conservative than that? However, in truth, this is far from conservatism. This is pure xenophobia that actually tarnishes the sacred values of conservatism.

You’ve probably heard of this cliché but true statement: America is a nation of immigrants. From the first and second waves of immigration in the early and mid 1800s that brought in the Germans and the Irish to the third and fourth waves of immigration in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century that brought in Asian and Latino immigrants, America has been allowing individuals from other countries to come in, seek refuge, make good use of opportunities, advance as a people, and give back to their “new home.” It’s almost like it is an American tradition! If conservative principles were to uphold tradition, then wouldn’t welcoming refugees from Syria be doing just that?

Secondly, conservatives believe in empowering the individual no matter who they are. Conservatives do not believe in hand-outs, but they surely believe in providing opportunities for people who will make the most of them for their self-growth and the greater good of their community. Allowing Syrian refugees to come in will be doing just that. Sure, they will probably need some government assistance during the first few months of their arrival, but that won’t be for long. According to International Business Times, Syrian refugees are more likely than refugees from other countries to come from professional backgrounds. Therefore, they are the kind of people who would be able to quickly take the opportunities provided to them in America to better themselves and give back to the nation. Immigrants are twice as likely to start a business than native-born individuals. Immigrants contribute more per capita through taxes compared to native-born Americans. That is what empowered individuals look like! If that does not suggest making the most out of opportunities and giving back to the nation, then I don’t know what does.

Finally, conservatives respect the dignity of all life whether it is the unborn or the elderly. Why can’t we then extend that dignity to Syrian refugees whose livelihoods were shattered into oblivion as war broke out in their home? The majority of refugees, if not all, are innocent victims of human cruelty. Refusing to help them because there is a slim possibility of pathetic inhumane terrorists posing as needy refugees is absurd. I’m not saying that the government should blindly accept anyone claiming to be a Syrian refugee. There needs to be systematic measures taken to ensure that the people who come in as refugees are legitimate and that they pose no threat to national security. But to blatantly prevent innocent human beings from acquiring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is surely immoral and un-American.

Although accepting refugees aligns with conservative appreciation of life, some reason against it due to our inability to address domestic problems. There are domestic problems such as veteran homelessness and many others that are affecting our nation. Those issues, of course, should not be ignored. However, we don’t neglect a dying man just because we are sick. Throughout history, we have combatted multiple issues at once. Having existing problems doesn’t always impact our ability to multitask. Also, I understand that America shouldn’t be the only nation helping refugees. After all, why aren’t some of the most peaceful and prosperous Arab states not letting Syrian refugees into their countries? Shouldn’t they be helping out too? Of course, they should! But their inactivity does not give America the reason to follow their ways. Let’s be an example to others as we’ve always been. We’re a world leader, and leaders lead by example.

If we truly believe in upholding traditions that make America great, if we truly believe in empowering individuals with opportunities, if we truly believe that life begins at conception and that it is sacred until death, then why are we opposed to exercising these beliefs? Let’s distinguish ourselves from xenophobes. Let’s be conservatives who truly understand what their values are and use them for the good of humanity.

GOP Debate Grades: Cruz and Rubio Shine, Jeb! Treads Water, and Rand Finds His Voice

Tuesday’s Fox Business Republican Debate was quite the breath of fresh air. After the monstrous travesty that was the CNBC debate two weeks ago, both of Tuesday’s debates were substantive, interesting, and policy-specific. Without further ado, here are my rankings of each candidate:

Main Debate

Donald Trump: C. According to some some national polls, Donald Trump has dropped an astonishing twelve points since the beginning of September. Nonetheless, he has been the ostensible frontrunner since a few weeks after he entered the race, which is impressive for any candidate. This summer of outsiders seems to be giving way to the autumn of real contenders, as candidates like Cruz and Rubio are making significant headway in the polls. Trump needed to prove that he was a real contender in Tuesday’s debate, and he barely had a presence on this stage. Not a terrible performance, but not one that will buttress his tenuous lead over the rest of the field.

Ben Carson: C. The candidate that has contributed most to the Trump windfall has been Carson, who turned in an adequate debate performance Tuesday. He is not a serious candidate for president, and didn’t even come close to looking like one. But he is still a good man with a keen sense of humor, as evidenced by numerous witty exchanges with the moderators. Carson’s biggest drawback is his ardent commitment to being the most boring man on the stage. Everyone likes Carson, but likability isn’t enough to be a competent commander-in-chief (See: Carter, Jimmy).

Marco Rubio: A. Once again, Senator Marco Rubio steals the night right out from under the other candidates. In a clash with fellow candidate Rand Paul on foreign policy, Rubio had his breakout moment when describing the imperativeness of a strong American presence in the world. Rubio is a clarion voice for a strong national defense, and constantly and articulately advocates for American hegemony around the world. Additionally, Rubio displayed exceptional command of an ideal regulatory structure of a dynamic 21st century economy, and by far looked the most presidential on stage. Rubio is truly a commander-in-chief who can lead the world in this unprecedentedly dangerous time, with gravitas and exceptional leadership. Chalk this performance up as Senator Rubio’s fourth consecutive win!

Ted Cruz: A. Senator Cruz turned in another great performance tonight, as his stellar debate chops are finally on full display. Cruz’s breakout moment came when discussing immigration, an issues that he clearly holds near to his heart. However, Cruz had a Perry-esque moment when detailing the federal agencies he would eliminate, and said that he would cut the Department of Commerce twice. It remains to be seen how that stumble will affect Cruz in the polls but overall, Cruz’s answers were substantive, passionate, and succinct. To paraphrase something I saw while scrolling through Twitter, the Cubans are definitely making it to the ninth inning!

Jeb Bush: B-. At this point, Governor Bush is treading water. Bush turned in a good performance when he desperately needed to turn in an excellent performance. At the last debate, Bush completely ran into a lawnmower when questioning Rubio. It was good for Bush that he avoided such a moment Tuesday, but you can’t acquire a reward without risking something, and Bush played it too safe. Bush needed a breakout moment to cement his position as the number one guy in the establishment lane, but failed to do so. All in all, this was an adequate performance from an adequate candidate.

Carly Fiorina: B-. Fiorina performed adequately at this debate, but we already knew she would. Ever since her breakout performance at the first undercard debate, and a stellar performance at the second debate, it has all been downhill for Fiorina. The unfortunate problem for Fiorina is that she simply cannot capitalize on the anger as well as Trump can. One line that was completely laughable was that she was constantly thinking of ways to grow jobs at HP, when in reality she fired 30,000 people and seemed to relish in firing them. I don’t get her appeal, but I suppose she would be a good vice presidential candidate.

John Kasich: F. Since most of Kasich’s performance consisted of him screaming at the latest inanimate object or ranting against how terrible the GOP is, I have no choice but to give him an F. Kasich is truly the most unlikeable guy that has run for president in recent memory, and his famous cantankerousness was on full display. I’m sick of his sermons, and I’m sick of seeing him on the main stage, and I’m sick of a patronizing, self-righteous liberal Democrat masquerading as a budget-balancing conservative. Chris Christie should have been on that stage instead of this fraud. Bye Felicia!

Rand Paul: B. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I run opposite to Paul on many fronts, most notably in the area of foreign policy and national security. So it might be a surprise to some that I’m going to say something good about Paul here, but I think he turned in a good debate performance Tuesday. I’ve always said that Paul needed to hit the reset button on his campaign in order to limp into Iowa, and it appears that he finally took my advice. Paul had a bigger presence on stage than Trump, and that is certainly saying a lot for both of their respective candidacies. I think we will see a slight bump in the polls for Paul, at least in Iowa, where he might take back some of Cruz’s supporters that were disaffected Ron Paulites.

Undercard Debate

Chris Christie: A. Wow. This was truly a special performance by Christie, who had a Fiorina-esque performance on the undercard stage. It is clear that Christie is one of the most natural politicians running for President, with a raw charisma and a swagger that sets him apart from most of the field. Christie basked in the limelight, and took on petty attacks from his rivals with characteristic confidence and aplomb. If Jeb Bush continues to falter, Christie could easily make his way into the establishment lane, and become a formidable force in New Hampshire. Being on the undercard stage was probably the best thing to happen to Christie’s candidacy.

Mike Huckabee: B.

Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum: F. Just drop out, guys.

Winners: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Fox Business moderators

Losers: JOHN KASICH, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum