GOP Candidates Field-Test Messages

Carly Fiorina speaking at the Freedom Summit in Greenville South Carolina May 8, 2015

Carly Fiorina at Freedom Summit, Greenville, South Carolina; image courtesy of Reuters

GOP Candidates Field-Test Messages
| published May 10, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

At a candidate’s showcase event in Greenville, South Carolina on Saturday, Republican candidates for President field-tested their basic messages before a key audience of GOP loyalists in a crucial early primary state. A common theme of the candidates present: foreign policy and the risks of terrorism in the United States.

A dozen Republican contenders—all of whom hope to be the candidate chosen to do battle with the Democratic Party’s presumed front runner Hillary Clinton—took turns attacking the policies of President Barack Obama, and criticizing Clinton’s record as a U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State. Nearly all the candidates at the event agreed, often using similar language, that many of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy programs have failed. And they also uniformly believe that Hillary Clinton will be their rival in 2016.

The event—organized and facilitated by Citizens United—was not a debate, per se, but merely an opportunity for candidates to preach to generally conservative audience. Speaking individually and in turns to the friendly, enthusiastic crowd, there were few attempts to attack each other, fewer still to make clear distinctions between themselves—save for the universal theme that they each believe they have the unique ability to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Most of those potential GOP candidates spoke harshly of Obama’s international and military policies, declaring that the United States and its allies are more vulnerable to attack than before Obama took office. Many also spoke of the need to create jobs, of economic reform, and of the still struggling post-Great Recession economy. Another common strategic attack: Obamacare, which nearly all candidates dismissed as a colossal failure and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Among those present were several candidates whose campaigns have already been declared and launched—including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, neurosurgeon and author Dr. Ben Carson, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Also present were a dozen other likely candidates or candidates whose formal announcements may be only days and weeks away, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (a campaign veteran of 2012), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Many of the candidates used the recent Texas attack by ISIS-inspired gunmen on an anti-Islamic-free-speech event to underscore how dangerous the world has become under the foreign policy template of President Obama. And though U.S. law enforcement and military intelligence officials are doubtful that the Garland gunmen were operating at the behest of ISIS, candidates present were in general agreement that such attacks will continue until the United States takes a more proactive role in fighting the Islamic State, which is based primarily in Syria and Iraq.

Republican strategists see foreign policy and the threat of terrorism as pivotal issues for voters. Recent polls by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News have found that among U.S. voters, national security and the threat of radical Islamic extremism is second only to the economy. Republican candidates are sure to use recent foreign policy misadventures—such as the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the rapid advance of ISIS—as evidence of Obama administration failures, and proof that Clinton is not fit to serve as chief executive and commander-in-chief. Several of the GOP candidates at the South Carolina forum also cited the examples of ISIS’s recent beheadings of Christians as proof of the Obama administration’s reactive policy regarding the rise of the Islamic State. Several of the candidates also attacked the President for his refusal to call ISIS militants “Muslim extremists,” and for Obama’s preference to use the more circumspect and politically-correct terms “radical militants” and “militant organization.”

All candidates offered up tough talk regarding the Islamic State, but few specifics.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Ben Carson: I Am Not a Politician; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; May 5, 2015.

Huckabee and Fiorina Join Crowded 2016 Race; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 4, 2015.