from The Water's Edge

Campaign 2016 Friday Foreign Policy Roundup: The Sixth Republican Presidential Debate

Republican U.S. presidential candidates gather before the start of the Republican debate on January 14, 2016. (Randall Hill/Courtesy Reuters)

January 15, 2016

Republican U.S. presidential candidates gather before the start of the Republican debate on January 14, 2016. (Randall Hill/Courtesy Reuters)
Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

More on:

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting

Foreign policy figured prominently at last night’s debate, even though the event’s focus was supposed to be the economy. The tone was set at the start when Ted Cruz responded to the opening question about jobs by denouncing the administration for Iran’s seizure of ten American sailors who blundered into Iranian waters. Cruz and his GOP rivals continued in the same vein throughout the rest of the evening. So what did we learn?

Two things. First and most obvious, the GOP candidates continue to see bashing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on foreign policy as a winning ticket with Republican voters. Indeed, the candidates seem to be competing to see who can generate the most memorable jab. Cruz likened Obama to a “child,” Chris Christie said that Obama’s State of the Union address was “story time,” Jeb Bush said the president was in an “alternative universe,” and Ben Carson thinks Obama “doesn’t realize we now live in the twenty-first century.”

These criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy may not be entirely accurate or fair, but they also are not surprising or novel. Polls show that GOP voters think the country is in danger, and candidates naturally gravitate to issues that mobilize voters. Likewise, American elections have long been rough-and-tumble endeavors. Heck, George Washington’s opponents accused of him of treason for signing a treaty with Britain.

What we also saw last night is that when it comes to foreign policy prescriptions, GOP candidates are light on specifics. The debate featured plenty of talk about the need for America to lead, for restoring alliances, and for being tough with adversaries. But those are aspirations and attitudes, not policies. When it comes to governing, as opposed to campaigning, the challenge is to identify which steps will advance American leadership, secure the cooperation of friends and allies, and deter adversaries. That process is far harder—and involves many more painful trade-offs—than anyone on last night’s debate stage was willing to admit. But if they don’t know that now, they will learn it quickly should any of them be fortunate enough to make it to the White House.

In Case You Missed It

Ben Carson released a new foreign policy plan with the tag line, “Heal, Inspire, Revive.” Marco Rubio pledged to “cancel” the Iran nuclear deal, if elected. Jeb Bush released his plan to “address the monumental threat of cyber attacks.”

Hillary Clinton released a new campaign ad titled “Incredible.” It takes aim at her potential Republican opponents by using their own words against them. Rubio calls his new campaign ad “Happening.” In it, he criticizes Jeb Bush’s attacks on his immigration views, and he pledges to “add 20,000 border agents” and to “finish all 700 miles of border wall.”

A new Quinnipiac poll found that likely Democratic caucus goers see Hillary Clinton as far better able than Bernie Sanders to handle foreign policy and terrorism. A new Monmouth poll of likely Democratic New Hampshire primary voters found that national security and terrorism trailed the economy and jobs as the most important issues. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire found that “national security and terrorism are the most important issues for Republicans” and Democrats “are most concerned with job creation and economic growth.”

The Washington Post has provided an annotated transcript of the debate. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Politico have all weighed in with assessments of how the debate unfolded.

The Washington Post reports that Rubio changed his campaign plans to attend a classified briefing on North Korea on Monday. Vox remembers “that time Marco Rubio called for a ‘cap-and-trade or carbon tax program.’” MSNBC reveals that Cruz’s senior foreign policy adviser has a PhD in Italian Renaissance art, and offers an interview on “Syria, democracy, and art.” If you’re confused about who is still in the race, the New York Times provides a good interactive summary.

Looking Ahead

The next Democratic debate is Sunday night in Charleston, South Carolina. Politico has kindly provided an article listing everything you need to know about it. NBC News will broadcast the event at 9 p.m. (EST).  Despite speculation that Martin O’Malley  wouldn’t post the poll numbers needed to qualify for the debate, he did. In case you’re counting, the Iowa caucuses are just 17 days away. We are 25 days away from the New Hampshire primary, and 298 days away from Election Day.

More on:

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting