Minutes after a solemn President Barack Obama spelled out his plans to protect Americans from terrorism, Marco Rubio declared that he "may have made things worse." Jeb Bush called the president "weak" and his approach "business as usual." And Donald Trump declared on Twitter, "We need a new President -- FAST!" Yet beneath their harsh rhetoric lies a fundamental political reality: Few in the Republican Party's 2016 class would break significantly with the Democratic president's approach to combating the Islamic State group. The avalanche of Republican criticism that continued Monday focused on the president's tone, his word choice and the fine points of his plans -- not in most cases the specific policy prescriptions he presented in his address from the Oval Office Sunday night.
Dec. 8, 201508:16
Right, of course. Simply tell the military to solve the problem and eliminate the threat. Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?
It may be because "directing" the Pentagon to "destroy ISIS" isn't the same thing as coming up with a credible policy that achieves those goals. The task for Cruz and other Republican presidential candidates isn't simply to identify the best possible outcome -- that's the incredibly easy part -- but rather, to articulate a realistic and effective plan.
And on this front, GOP White House hopefuls are having some trouble. The New York Times noted over the weekend that Republican candidates have been nearly hysterical about what they see as World War III, but "for all the heated expressions from Republicans, there emerged no real detailed consensus among them about how to destroy the Islamic State or stop it from inspiring future adherents in the United States. They favored symbolism over specific policy prescriptions."
The Associated Press published a related analysis yesterday afternoon that fleshed this point out further.
Jeb Bush, who's been barely able to contain his disdain for Obama's foreign policy, was asked on MSNBC yesterday about specific elements of the president's anti-ISIS policy. The Florida Republican said he believes the current U.S. approach lacks "intensity" -- whatever that means in this context -- but he didn't reject any specific parts of Obama's strategy.
The AP added that Marco Rubio, when asked how he'd differ from Obama, "focused on style rather than substance."
This isn't to say there are no differences between Republican candidates and the Democratic president. Some, for example, support a no-fly zone that the administration opposes. Lindsey Graham appears to want some kind of full-scale invasion of Syria, which the president is obviously not considering.
But the broader truth is nevertheless hard to miss: Republicans excel in whining about the White House policy, but they're far less adept at presenting alternatives to Obama's agenda.
The AP report added, "Absent significant policy differences, many Republicans have seized on Obama's tone." They might as well just admit, "We're complaining for the sake of complaining."