Chaos Candidacies

No American is safer after tonight’s Republican debate.

No American Is Safer After Tonight’s Republican Debate

Every single candidate on the stage tonight will back the Republican nominee for president, even if that candidate supports cutting off all Muslim immigration to the U.S., deporting millions of people currently living in America, or even shutting down the internet. That is the biggest takeaway from tonight’s debate: The Republican solution for terrorism is more focused on attacking peaceful communities cemented in American society than it is on waging an aggressive, strategic fight against ISIS.

While Americans tuned into tonight’s debate looking for a plan to fight terrorism and keep America safe, what they got instead was the same fear-mongering that has dominated GOP rhetoric and a willingness to compromise American values on issues like refugees. When the debate did focus on actual policy, the entire GOP moved one more step away from the reality of today’s electorate.

No American is safer after tonight’s GOP debate, and in fact they are likely more fearful as a result of GOP rhetoric. No American is better off or learned anything about how any candidate would work to create a more inclusive economy or help working families get ahead. As we enter 2016, hopefully we will move from chaos candidacy to a realistic debate about how to keep Americans safe and strengthen the nation.

Looking at several key issues covered in the debate, we broke down the candidates’ extreme approaches, and offer in contrast what serious policy solutions would look like:


Keeping America safe may have been the focus of tonight’s debate, but the candidates mentioned guns just three times. Instead, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz blamed the Obama administration and our immigration system for the threat of domestic terrorism. But all the discussion of domestic terrorism failed to mention the fact that the day after the San Bernardino attacks, the Republican-led Senate, including Sens. Cruz, Paul, and Rubio, voted against a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns.

  • We must close the terror gap. Because of a significant loophole in our current gun laws, suspected terrorists in the United States can legally purchase guns. And they do. From 2000 to 2014, more than 2,000 individuals on the consolidated terror watch list passed a background check and were legally able to purchase a gun.
  • Gun use by terrorists is on the rise. Lone-wolf carrying out attacks on American soil have increasingly turned away from bombs and embraced high-powered guns. In fact, terrorists have encouraged recruits to take advantage of America’s weak gun laws. In 2011, an Al Qaeda leader encouraged recruits to exploit lax American gun laws to commit acts of terror.
  • GOP lawmakers prioritize the NRA over America’s national security. GOP candidates in the main debate took a combined total of $130,198 from pro-gun groups so far this election season. But despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including 82 percent of gun owners, and 75 percent of NRA gun owners, support closing the terror gap, it’s no surprise that a GOP-led Congress has also refused to act.


Throughout the debate, we heard countless candidates attempt to one-up each other with increasingly negative anti-refugee rhetoric. Ted Cruz stated “we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees” and has promised to pass legislation to “suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or Al Qaida control substantial territory.” Marco Rubio warned that ISIS would “exploit loopholes” and come in as immigrants. And when asked about migrants, Donald Trump implied they had ISIS ties and said that once he’s president, “they’re gone.” This anti-refugee rhetoric is inaccurate, goes against our national values, and hurts our national security.

  • The United States has a rigorous process for screening Syrian refugees. The United States has a 21-step screening process for entry to the U.S. for Syrian refugees. The process is the most intensive of any check conducted for people seeking admissions to the United States and takes two years on average. The process already includes an enhanced level of review by headquarters personnel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within DHS.
  • The refugee screening process works. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than 3 million refugees from around the world. During that time, there have been no recorded terrorist attacks in the United States by a refugee.
  • Keeping refugees from entering the United States goes against our values. Refugees are fleeing ISIS, giving us a common enemy in the fight against terrorism. Mostly women and children, they face death, torture or forced service to ISIS if they remain in Syria. It is a core American value to give a home to those fleeing violence and tyranny, and it is in our national security interest as well.
  • Blocking refugees plays into the hands of extremism. If we turn our backs to Syrian refugees, or even throw up more bureaucratic hurdles to “pause” the review process, we only validate ISIS’s propaganda about the West closing its doors to Muslims.


While the Republican candidates were ready “carpet bomb” Syria and Iraq, few had any plan for how to politically stabilize the region and to build the necessary coalition, including with Arab nation forces to defeat ISIS. In fact, their rhetoric about Muslims and refugees is likely to be detrimental to any strategy that involves Arab nations, and ignores the success the U.S. has had in this effort. . From ground troops to carpet bombs, these candidates promote extreme approaches – if they have any at all – that only make the problem worse.

  • The U.S. has led a strong coalition effort against ISIS. Central in the U.S. strategy against ISIS is a coalition of at least 62 countries committed to fighting terrorism in the region. As of December 9, 2015, the U.S. coalition against ISIS had conducted nearly 9,000 strikes and the U.S. has been responsible for nearly 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes. And the airstrikes have been effective: The U.S.-led coalition has killed 15,000 terrorists.
  • There are additional steps we can take to fight ISIS. The Center for American Progress has proposed a series of steps the United States should take to defeat ISIS, which includes increasing the military campaign against ISIS and authorizing the use of military force, but do not require large-scale U.S.-ground operation. These steps could produce the leverage necessary to push for more inclusive leadership in Syria. This would in turn reduce the humanitarian crisis, slow the flow of refugees, and coalesce all parties around defeating ISIS.


While the candidates on stage generally attempted to pivot away from broad anti-Muslim rhetoric that has defined the past 6 weeks of the primary, Donald Trump did not walk back his support for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and anti-Islamic sentiment surfaced on issues like accepting refugees. Islamophobic rhetoric is as damaging as it is offensive. Hateful, divisive rhetoric of the kind on display during tonight’s debate puts our security at risk by playing into terrorists’ strategy.

  • Islamophobia plays into the strategy of terrorists. Alienating entire communities through Islamophobia, including the Muslim community here in the U.S., helps enable ISIS to achieve its stated goal of using violent attacks to instill fear and cause disruption. ISIS has been very clear about its objective to provoke hostility toward innocent Muslims in Western society.
  • Muslim-Americans are essential in fighting ISIS. Contrary to the Republican candidates’ anti-Muslim rhetoric, Muslim Americans are among the strongest assets in America’s arsenal in its fight against ISIS and its abhorrent ideology. In fact, Muslim American communities have helped prevent more than one-third of Al Qaeda terrorist plots in the United States since 9/11. Additionally, mosques have been found to deter radicalization and extremism.

BOTTOM LINE: Our national security is a serious issue. But at a time when our nation is concerned for its safety, the Republican candidates are failing. Their divisive rhetoric plays directly into the enemy’s hands. They ignore serious policy solutions to keep guns out of terror suspects’ hands and strengthen the global coalition to fight terrorism. They ignore climate change, another key issue for our national security. Instead, all we get is chaos.

Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.