One of the Republican debates was held on Tuesday, December 15th at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada. This fifth debate was especially significant, as it was the last one to be held before the end of the year. The Iowa Caucuses will be held on February 5th. The theme was national security, a prevalent topic given the concerns expressed by the Republican Party about President Obama’s foreign policy strategy. Many of those watching the debate were anxious to hear the candidates’ plans for defeating ISIS, especially in light of the recent shooting in San Bernardino, California.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer acted as the moderator, while Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt asked the questions. The undercard debate featured George Pataki, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Lindsey Graham. Graham criticized frontrunner Donald Trump for his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. However, Santorum and Huckabee stated that Trump raised an important issue, with Huckabee saying that Trump “has touched a nerve because people are angry and afraid that we are facing an enemy that this administration refuses to acknowledge, refuses to want to go fight.” Graham also reinforced his belief that the Muslim community should not be targeted. He said, “There are at least 3,500 Muslim-Americans serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your service. You are not the enemy. Your religion is not the enemy.”
Santorum and Pataki disagreed on the Pentagon’s decision to open all U.S. military combat roles to women. Santorum said that he would reverse the policy, stating, “I would use the studies that were done that were ignored by this military, that [said] there were certain positions that frankly were not suitable [for women].” Pataki disagreed, saying that women should be able to prove their abilities in roles that they previously were unable to have. Santorum later clarified by noting that positions should not be given to those who cannot carry out the job.
The candidates on the main debate stage were Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul. The debate discussion focused mainly on national security issues such as immigration laws and terrorism. When asked about immigration, Rubio said, “”The American people don’t trust the federal government to enforce our immigration laws, and we will not be able to do anything on immigration until we first prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control.” Cruz emphasized the need for the border to be secured and criticized what he believed was a plan to grant amnesty to refugees by Rubio.
At one point during the debate, Donald Trump was called out by Carly Fiorina for his statement he made on foreign policy and Middle East dictators. He believed that the United States should have spent money ($4 trillion) on building roads and bridges, rather than on trying to overthrow dictators. Fiorina contested Trump’s statement by saying, “That is exactly what President Obama said. I’m amazed to hear that from a Republican presidential candidate.” As the discussion moved to the Islamic state and terrorism, Bush stated that “we need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate,” while Kasich said that we must cooperate with “our Arab friends and our friends in Europe” to destroy ISIS. On the topic of NSA surveillance, Rubio stressed the importance of the metadata program, “a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”
Regardless of political views, presidential debates are valuable tools that can increase political participation and allow citizens to stay more informed about candidates’ plans.