Presidential races

Terror shifts candidates’ focus to security

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Republicans running for president are redirecting focus to national security after Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, with establishment figures seizing on the incident to separate themselves from the inexperienced candidates who lead the GOP pack: real estate magnate Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Conservative national security experts say the assaults by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have given renewed purpose and credibility to candidates who have, for months, struggled to compete against the outsiders.

{mosads}“This is an inflection point,” said Dov Zakheim, an undersecretary of Defense in George W. Bush’s administration who has consulted this year with Republican candidates such as former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.), Sen. -Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) on national defense. 

“Primary voters will look to the Republican candidates with the maturity and experience to make real presidential decisions,” he added. 

“That eliminates Donald Trump, whose catch phrases are insufficient, and will make it very difficult for Carson, who does not have depth of knowledge or credibility on the issue.”

Republicans say the events are transforming a GOP race that to date has focused heavily on domestic issues and has been dominated by Trump’s outsize personality and Carson’s emotional resonance.

“There is true danger in nominating candidates with no national security experience or candidates that wish to look the other way when people want to come or stay in the U.S. unknown, unchecked, and unverified,” said Kellyanne Conway, who is leading the pro-Ted Cruz super-PAC Keep the Promise I.

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton — who has not endorsed anyone but has consulted with several of the candidates — took out ads over the weekend in major newspapers in states that hold the first four nominating contests urging conservatives to thoroughly vet the GOP contenders on national defense.

Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Rubio have all seized on the Paris attacks as a way to contrast their experience against the little exposure their competitors have had to foreign affairs.

Perhaps no candidate has been reinvigorated as much as Bush,  who appeared on about a half-dozen network and cable news shows over the weekend and into Monday.

The former Florida governor asked NBC’s “Meet the Press” viewers to consider “who can sit behind the big desk” and “who has the judgment and the temperament to lead this country.” 

In direct response to a question about whether Trump and Carson could be trusted as commander in chief to deal with the threat of terrorism, Bush told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he was unsure.

“The words that I hear them speaking give me some concern,” Bush said.

Bush, in line with the GOP’s hawkish wing, is urging the White House to declare war on ISIS, pushing for more troops in the region, a no-fly zone over Syria and the reauthorization of the National Security Agency’s metadata spying program that was curtailed by Congress over the summer.

The candidate will make his case again Wednesday in a long-planned speech at The Citadel, a military college in the early-voting state of South Carolina, which an aide said would now focus on the Paris attacks and the threat of radical Islamic terror, rather than rebuilding the military. A white paper on national security is forthcoming.

An urgent focus on terrorism also works in  Rubio’s favor. He is one of the party’s foremost hawks and Bush’s most threatening rival in the establishment lane.

Rubio, a high-ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called on NATO to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, declaring the Paris attacks an act of war against a NATO ally that requires the U.S. to “bring everyone together to put together a coalition to confront this challenge.”

In the aftermath of the attacks, Rubio filmed and released a Web video on Saturday describing Paris as a “wake-up call,” and declaring that the U.S. is engaged in a “civilizational conflict with radical Islam.” 

Meanwhile, Kasich, who served on the House Armed Services Committee during his nearly two decades on Capitol Hill, has moved up a long-planned speech on national security to Tuesday, allowing him to address the ISIS attacks and present himself as the experienced executive needed to keep America safe.

Christie was widely praised for a fiery speech he gave in Florida on Saturday, and has built his candidacy on his law-and-order credentials and argued forcefully with civil liberties proponents such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who wants to dismantle U.S. government surveillance programs.

A Syrian passport apparently linked to one of the terrorists who attacked Paris has given GOP critics fuel for their arguments that Obama should not accept 10,000 Syrian refugees as planned.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) maintains the U.S. should consider allowing Christian refugees into the country because they pose “no meaningful risk,” whereas Muslim refugees, he said, should be kept out because there’s no way to vet their allegiances. His super-PAC will similarly amplify Cruz’s arguments.

Meanwhile Trump and Carson, who have defied conventional wisdom at every turn, are soldiering on with the strategies that got them here.

In a Monday morning appearance on CNBC, Trump said the U.S. would have to strengthen its intelligence capabilities. “We’re going to have to knock them out and knock them out hard,” he said, without giving specifics.

Carson over the weekend stumbled on the question of what countries and leaders he’d appeal to for help in combating terrorism. His supporters have so far been unconcerned with such struggles and far more interested in his message of American exceptionalism.

Establishment figures — who have read the electorate wrong so far this presidential season — may be mistaken yet again about the effect of the Paris attacks on the race.

Trump’s and Carson’s blunt ideas of how to destroy ISIS and shut out refugees have been thrilling crowds for months now, and Trump has the added advantage of saying that he was right all along in his prescription to “bomb the s—” out of ISIS’s oil fields and target the terrorist group’s wealth.

In an interview Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said, “If you remember when I said attack the oil, because that’s their primary source of wealth. People smiled, and they laughed and they thought it was a joke, and they thought it was funny.  Now … they’re attacking the oil.”

Indeed, Bolton argued Monday that a lack of political experience or policy depth shouldn’t disqualify any of the GOP candidates.

“The principle qualification you need to be successful is judgment, and you can get that in a lot of different ways.”

Tags Donald Trump Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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