Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
The media had an agenda for this Republican debate. It wanted to turn it into a sideshow and treat the candidates like players in a tawdry soap opera. With the media desperate to turn the Republican debate into a circus, the candidates proved equally determined to rise above it by focusing on the issues.
“The entire lead up to this debate was talking about whether Donald Trump is going to show up for the next debate,” Rick Santorum said. “The people of Iowa, who I know pretty darn well, care a lot about the issues.”
Carly Fiorina spoke of, “The yawning chasm, between what the national media talks about and what the people of Iowa and the people of this great nation talk about. The people of Iowa never ask me about a crisis in the GOP, they never ask me about the polls. They never ask me about the other candidates.”
In his closing statement, Ted Cruz reassured the audience, “The media noise will soon be over.”
And that will be a welcome thing. The media’s agenda is to make the Republican field look ridiculous and the Democratic field credible, to make it seem as if Republicans have personalities, but not issues, while their Democratic allies are responsible leaders who can be trusted to actually run the country.
Once again, the Republican candidates proved to be better than the media types both inside and outside the debate. For them and for millions of Americans who care about the future, the debates were not a sideshow. The focus was not on the high school drama that the media wanted to make it into.
From the War on Terror to Global Warming, from the military to immigration, from the economy to ethanol, the candidates rousingly clashed on the issues, instead of around the personalities.
And they showed that they understood the issues.
“This president says that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, and as a result has put together a strategy that doesn't take care of what the reality is,” Rick Santorum spelled out. “A caliphate is also a religious title, and it is both a religious call to help this state.”
When it came to Islamic terrorism, Ben Carson once again described the Muslim Brotherhood memorandum from the Holy Land Foundation trial, a subject that is otherwise taboo in the media. This is not the first time that Dr. Carson has mentioned it and while he is often attacked as being “ignorant”, the memorandum is a subject that more “knowledgeable” figures refuse to touch.
Challenged on the question of shutting down mosques that promote terrorism, Marco Rubio warned, “Look at the attack they inspired in Philadelphia, that the White House still refuses to link to terror, where a guy basically shot a police officer three times. He told the police, ‘I did it because I was inspired by ISIS,’ and to this day, the White House still refuses to acknowledge it had anything to do with terror.”
“I think that's a -- that's a huge mistake, to be closing down mosques,” Rand Paul complained. And Chris Christie wheezed that profiling Islamic terrorists wasn’t needed to stop Islamic terrorism.
Pushing back against a politically correct Islamophobia question, Dr. Carson replied firmly, “We need to stop allowing political correctness to dictate our policies, because it's going to kill us if we don't.”
FOX’s unfortunate collaboration with Google led to a series of questions by left-wing YouTube vloggers pushing Democratic talking points. The most pernicious of these came from a Muslim Bernie Sanders supporter named Nabela Noor.
Unfortunately none of the candidates directly addressed the implication in Noor’s question that if Americans are mean to Muslims then Muslims will go and join ISIS. Instead of vowing to fight ISIS, Muslim crybullying questions like these actually threaten us with ISIS.
“She's not the threat. The threat is Islamic terrorism,” Jeb Bush sputtered.
Ted Cruz defended his proposal to carpet bomb ISIS from media criticism. “You want to know what carpet bombing is? It's what we did in the first Persian Gulf war; 1,100 air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy. Right now, Barack Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day.”
He also called for lifting “the rules of engagement so we're not sending our fighting men and women into combat with their arms tied behind their backs.”
Rejecting Obama’s “Jobs for Jihadis” approach, Marco Rubio said of the Islamic State, “They are not going to go away on their own. They're not going to turn into stockbrokers overnight or open up a chain of car washes. They need to be defeated militarily, and that will take overwhelming U.S. force.”
The candidates were often divided, but they were united on the unacceptability of a Hillary presidency. And in the debate, Hillary Clinton was mostly present as a punch line.
Jim Gillmore vowed to veto gun control bills “as fast as it takes Hillary Clinton to eliminate her emails.”
“Hillary Clinton has been climbing the ladder to try and get power and here now she is trying for the White House. She is probably more qualified for the big house,” Carly Fiorina suggested.
“One of her first acts as president may very well be to pardon herself,” Rubio joked.
Some of the candidates took controversial stands. Rand Paul came out for amnesty. Christie compared Kim Davis to ISIS. Kasich defended his Medicaid expansion. But there were also innovative proposals.
Ted Cruz proposed allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines and called for abolishing the EPA’s blend wall instead of maintaining an ethanol mandate. Rubio suggested that Bernie Sanders should run for President of Sweden and Carly Fiorina repeated her call for a three page tax code.
While there were clashes and inappropriate questions to the candidates that were more about their prospects in the race than about their policies, this debate came down to issues. It is tempting to get caught up in the spectator sport of personalities, to splinter into teams and root for the candidate, to hate the other side for not wearing the same name on the campaign button, and yet the future of the country will depend on the issues we support, not on the personalities.
No politician can save us. No politician will save us. If we do not fight for the issues that matter, then conservatives will be betrayed by promising candidate after candidate, by political savior after savior.
If we do not put the issues first, then no matter who wins, we will all lose.