Defense & Foreign Policy

Last night’s Republican presidential primary debate focused on foreign policy and national security. Whether it was Senator Ted Cruz claiming he would carpet bomb ISIS, but avoid civilian casualties by only targeting “bad guys,” or Governor Chris Christie expressing his willingness to risk a nuclear war with Russia by shooting down Russian jets over Syria, or Republican front-runner Donald Trump not having a single clue what the nuclear triad is, the results were as expected. Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush provided perhaps the most coherent answers of the night, but their claims that America’s military has been “decimated” due to funding cuts are belied by the fact that United States still spends twice as much as its enemies combined. Rubio declared last night that the Navy and Air Force need to be expanded to fight ISIS, which has neither a navy nor an air force. Both candidates claim they will “rebuild” the U.S. military, by which they mean they will throw more money at the Department of Defense with little regard for how it is spent. Republicans continue to claim they are the serious party on national security. Every time GOP candidates open their mouths, they prove otherwise.

Technology / Civil Liberties

It was great to finally see a presidential debate so focused on the issue of encryption. It’s just too bad it had to occur under the umbrella theme of, as Wolf Blitzer phrased it, “how to keep the country safe.” Much of the rhetoric from last night’s debate was focused on fear in the aftermath of the recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. Unfortunately, many of the candidates trumpeted the call for mandatory backdoor access into encryption, tearing down the provisions of the USA Freedom Act, and even shutting down “areas of the Internet.”

In the first debate, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham all relied on messages of fear to advance their argument that the surveillance state needs to be expanded and that companies should be forced to alter their business models so they no longer offer consumers strong, securely encrypted devices.

The prime-time debate wasn’t much better for civil liberties and cybersecurity. Unsurprisingly, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump all advanced an anti-encryption, pro-surveillance position, with Trump doubling down, saying: “I would be open to closing areas where we are at war with people. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us use our Internet.” Carly Fiorina, when confronted with a question on her position on encryption, largely prevaricated, avoiding a direct answer while maintaining that tech companies don’t need to be “forced” to the table to “solve” the encryption “problem.”

What was a surprise, however, was just how much of a stalwart skeptic of encryption John Kasich turned out to be, parroting the same language as some in Congress and the law enforcement community have been trotting out: “Encryption is a major problem and Congress has got to deal with it and so does the president to keep us safe.” Another surprise was Rand Paul who, when confronted with his position on encryption, pivoted towards his position on border security as the best way to ensure our national security.

The only positive statements about the need to preserve online freedoms and civil liberties came from Ted Cruz who, to his credit, stood by his vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act. Though it’s good to see the candidates finally talking about the issue of encryption and online surveillance, their positions last night left much to be desired.


The 5th Republican debate saw a heavy focus on national security and terrorism. In that broad conversation, Donald Trump reiterated his support for banning Muslim immigration and Chris Christie reminded viewers that 4-year old Syrian orphans are a national security threat. Rampant fear-mongering was on display.

In a heated exchange between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the senator from Florida reiterated his support for a path to legal status for some of the undocumented population. Cruz ruled out any path to legalization. Polling suggests Rubio is on the side of Republicans and the nation at large.

The best line of the night was delivered by Jeb Bush when he said, “coming here legally needs to be a lot easier than coming here illegally.” Bush understands that a severely restricted legal immigration system translates into undocumented immigration into the country.

Many Republican candidates continue to utilize rhetoric that is hostile towards Syrian refugees, undocumented immigrants, and Muslim Americans. The party clearly needs a better understanding of the great contributions of immigrants and the compassionate history of U.S. refugee resettlement.