ORLANDO, Florida — In the wake of devastating terror attacks in Paris, presidential candidates juggled tragedy and politics as they continued on the campaign trail — with Democrats heading into a debate and Republicans attending the Sunshine Summit, a multi-candidate gathering in Florida.
Republicans took hawkish stances and blamed the president — and in turn former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — for the growing threats of terrorism.“ISIS is a creation of a political decision by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to abandon Iraq against all of our generals recommendations, against all of the policy recommendations,” former Sen. Rick Santorum said of the withdrawal, which occurred in 2013–a date initially agreed to by President George W. Bush. “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, under her watch, decided to put politics above the security of our country and the security and stability of the war. From that war has born ISIS.”
Santorum boasted of being targeted in a magazine produced by ISIS, in an attempt to paint himself as a national security expert. “They know who I am and I know who they are,” Santorum said of the Islamic State, advocating for “bombing them back to the Seventh century.”
Both she and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal criticized the president for how he talks about ISIS; in particular, they slammed him for talking about “violent extremism” instead of radical Islam; Jindal criticized Obama for his remarks this summer that it will also be a “generational struggle” defeated by ideas.
“This is an evil, evil power – they are burning people alive, Mr. President, sometimes it does take guns.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich called the attacks “an attack on all Western civilization” and called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to invoke Article 5 – a part of the Washington Treaty that declares an armed attack against one NATO nation an attack on all of them. Kasich advocated for using this to launch a military coalition that would include American forces to fight ISIS.
Dr. Ben Carson on Friday said that boots on the ground would “probably” be necessary to fight terrorism, and he argued against allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.
Sen. Rand Paul – his party’s only real noninterventionist – dodged questions on how he’d handle the growing threat of terrorism, saying only that he wanted to cut waste from the military budget to be more fiscally conservative. He also argued that the U.S. should be “very careful, very cautious about who visits, who emigrates where, and who studies here.” He said he opposed the president’s plan to allow Syrian refugees to come to America, but refused to say whether he, like Donald Trump, would send them back if he were president.
At a campaign rally Saturday in Beaumont, Texas, Trump said the terror attacks would have been “a much different situation” if the city had looser gun laws and victims were armed.
“When you look at Paris, you know, the toughest gun laws in the world, nobody had guns except for the bad guys, nobody,” he said
Trump added: “Nobody had guns, and they were just shooting them one by one. You can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry, it would’ve been a much, much different situation.”
In statements, interviews and online, others weighed in.
“President Obama may have been tired of war, but our enemies are not tired of killings and they are getting stronger,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said on Fox News. “That doesn’t mean we should be sending our sons and daughters to invade foreign countries and stay there forever and engage in nation-building. But we need a commander-in-chief who says we need to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.”
New York Gov. George Pataki unleashed a furious statement on Friday night blaming Democratic leaders: “The Obama-Clinton-Kerry axis of evasion, equivocation and error has left America and our allies around the world at the mercy of these cowards,” he wrote.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in a slew of tweets, said that the attacks were “a reminder of the increasing dangers facing free peoples around the world.”
The three Democratic candidates will convene for their second debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday night. After gunmen with explosives and automatic weapons killed at least 129 people and injured hundreds more on Friday evening, the debate hosts — CBS, KCCI, and The Des Moines Register — will now focus part of the debate on national security issues.
Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle all issued statements offering prayers and expressed varying degrees of outrage on Twitter and online.
The renewed focus in Saturday’s debate will present a venue for Hillary Clinton to highlight her experience as secretary of state, potentially strengthening her pitch as being the Democrat most qualified to be commander in chief. Other candidates seeking to counter that record may renew their criticism of her handling of the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Republicans seem likely to seize on that incident in attacks on her record.
For his part, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders may field criticism for trying to take a backseat to other nations in the fight on terror — he’s previously said that foreign nations like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait should take a bigger role in stabilizing Syria and tackling ISIS.
“It is wrong to ask the United States of America alone, our armed forces, our taxpayers to put that country back together again,” Sanders said on Fox News last month. “You need a regional force of people who are prepared to take on ISIS and destroy that barbaric organization.”
MSNBC’s Khorri Atkinson contributed.