The over 18 million Americans who tuned to CNN on Tuesday night for the first Republican presidential debate since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino might have been pleasantly surprised. American anxieties over the threat of radical Islamic terrorism are nearing or surpassing their immediate post-9/11 peaks, and those who turned on the news to hear a substantive debate over the near-and long-term security challenges facing the nation were privy to one. For Democrats, this has proven frustrating. Theirs is a party that cannot have a serious debate over matters related to national security without condemning their party’s leader and his brand of crisis management and, thus, jeopardizing its own electoral viability in the process.
Debate watchers who hoped to witness some of the frivolous internecine aggression that typified past GOP primary contests were disappointed. The Republican presidential candidates sparred over the threat posed by the Islamic State, both on the home front and overseas. They scuffled over the smartest and most effective strategic approach to combating the terrorist network on its home turf in Iraq and Syria. They argued over how best to contain a resurgent Moscow, and how to respond to incursions into NATO operating space inside Syria by Russian warplanes. They deliberated over privacy rights, communications monitoring programs, regime change, nuclear force posturing, Chinese revisionism, Iranian terrorism sponsorship, and the human cost of war. What’s more, a wide range of opinions were reflected in the candidates’ positions on those issues, and virtually every segment of the Republican Party’s coalition was represented competently.