It’s been said that there is no greater motivator than fear—which is exactly what the Republican candidates tapped into last night.
Tuesday’s GOP debate circled primarily around terrorism and the growing threat our nation faces from ISIS and jihadists in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks. America is already afraid, but the candidates were working to fuel that fear into rage, rage against the Obama administration and current leadership for supposed inaction.
From Rick Santorum’s unfounded “We’ve entered World War III” and Ben Carson's repeated avocation that Congress officially declare war on ISIS, to Ted Cruz’s incessant mantra of “radical Islamic terrorism,” a sense of fear infused the dialogue—fear that Obama isn’t doing enough, fear that our intelligence officials are incapable of gathering crucial information, fear that the terrorists are always one step ahead in terms of technology and encryption .
Most of these claims were blown out of proportion through misinformation. Rubio alleged that we now have a weaker NSA with too many limitations on the information it can collect, thanks to the USA Freedom Act which passed this summer. According to a CNN fact check, Rubio is wrong: the NSA possesses the same capabilities it did before. Regarding the San Bernardino shooters, he stated that, “I bet you we wish we had access to five years of his records, so we could see who he was working with before they carry out another attack"—the NSA could easily access this information if the shooters’ phone company kept five year records.
John Kasich blamed our inability to crack encryption as the reason we did not see the San Bernardino shooters’ messages about waging jihad. As CNN reveals, “Encryption is not the reason the couples' posts were not being monitored. Rather, they were private communications, both by phone and social media, and the U.S. government was not monitoring them because they had no reason to. The couple were not on any terrorist watchlists, and Malik made her comments under a fake name behind many privacy settings that would have required a warrant to access them.” Again, pointing to incompetence in current government is misleading.
Yet the candidates thrive on these fears; by constantly delineating an array of problems, it positions them as the only ones who can fix the situation and guarantee the safety of the American people. It inspires tough talk and simple solutions, which, unfortunately, most people love. We would all like to believe there is a smooth, straightforward path to defeating ISIS, but the situation with our allies and ground troops is incredibly complex, and certainly not anything a candidate could comprehensively address in the 1 ½ minutes they are given per question.
However, this didn’t stop them from trying. Cruz opened with the declaration that, “We will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS.”
Such a blanket assertion is both stupid and unfeasible, although to many Republican voters, it certainly sounds good.
He continued on with ideas of “carpet bombing” and obliterating ISIS, yet when asked whether he supported killing children and civilians, he backpedaled, saying that he would only target areas with known ISIS supporters (which is not carpet bombing, and also much more difficult to carry out than Cruz makes it seem).
Candidates also made many unwarranted claims about the possibility of radicalized Syrian refugees, or monitoring Muslim mosques for radical behavior, projecting panic about terrorism onto these blameless groups—a fear mongering tactic their voters eat up.
By constructing this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, and placing themselves as the only strong leaders capable of assuring American safety, it pulls voters in under false pretenses. This technique largely works, exemplified through Trump and Cruz’s surging poll numbers.
The narrative the GOP candidates present is distorted, and it is up to the public to refuse to give into their unfounded fears, because that is exactly what they want.
Banner Image Credit: Twitter, @Variety