Ben Carson couldn’t name a single ally or leader he’d bring into a U.S. coalition against ISIS on Sunday. Last week Donald Trump said he knows more about ISIS “than the generals do.”
In the wake of devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, the Republican presidential primary has suddenly become focused on national security. That could turn the two front-runners’ political inexperience—a selling point until Friday—into a liability.
On Sunday, Carson, a former neurosurgeon, was asked three times by Fox News’ Chris Wallace to name an ally to join in a coalition fighting ISIS.
“My point being that if we get out there and we really lead and it appears that we’re making progress, that all of the Arab states and even the non-Arab states who are, I think, beginning to recognize that the jihad movement is global” will join, Carson said on Sunday. In the same interview, he continued to argue that China is directly involved in the Syrian conflict, a claim rated false by PolitiFact. And also Sunday, he said at a rally in Nevada that al Qaeda in 2003 was “not an existential threat to us,” as ISIS is today.
Carson’s fumbled foreign policy questions before, once suggesting in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that a nation that’s already part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization might join it.
Trump, who also botched an interview with Hewitt on foreign policy, similarly lacked the kind of specifics and details his rivals used to explain their strategy to defeat ISIS.
“If I were president, we probably wouldn’t be in the problems we have right now,” Trump, a real-estate mogul, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday, while reiterating his plan to bomb the Iraqi oil fields and keep the oil. It’s a plan military analysts say would do more harm than good as it destabilizes a struggling nation and does little to hurt the terrorist group.
Trump also said he’d consider closing down mosques – something the First Amendment explicitly bars – as part of his anti-terror measures. He went on to slam New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for ending the surveillance of mosques, despite police acknowledgement that the program had not led to a single credible lead.
Until now, the GOP presidential race has favored political outsiders like Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina, the former business executive who had a string of good poll results after a strong debate performance in September. But the Paris attacks may turn voters away from fresh faces and towards their more experienced counterparts.
There’s a similar dynamic on the Democratic side, where the national security focus could help Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, at the expense of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is most comfortable talking about domestic issues.
But it’s the GOP race where the impact could be more profound. The changed landscape could even offer a comeback opportunity for Jeb Bush, who has pitched himself as the experienced, proven candidate but has struggled in the polls. Of course, Bush’s establishment ties – especially a brother who ordered the ill-fated U.S. invasion of Iraq – could be as much a hindrance as a help.
“This is the war of our time,” Bush said on “Morning Joe.” “We need to have a strategy, it needs to be clearly defined, it needs to be a strategy where we fight to win and then we pull out. This is how America is at its best, is to lead forces from around the world to do this. This is the time to act.”
A renewed focus on national security could also help the already-rising Sen. Marco Rubio, a hawk who sits on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, and who has vowed to bring “moral clarity” and better funding to the military.
Rubio called the Paris attacks a “wake-up call,” and argued against allowing Syrian refugees into the country.
“It’s not that we don’t want to,” Rubio said on ABC on Sunday. “It’s that we can’t.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham has spent much of his low-polling, six-month presidential bid speaking about the threat of ISIS. Now, many of his stances – boots on the ground, an increased military action, a full-on war on ISIS – are being parroted by rivals in the race.
“Paris made things more real than ever,” he said on Monday’s “Morning Joe.”