Posted by Hunter Headapohl on August 10, 2015 in Blog

Last night was a night of non-stop action for political aficionados, with the first round of GOP debates. Those who didn’t make the cut for the prime-time debate participated in a separate debate. While this is ostensibly many candidates’ first exposure to the broader American public, a lot of their rhetoric bears resemblance to their earlier statements, which the Arab American Institute has been compiling over the last few months.

During the earlier debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham , George Pataki, and Bobby Jindal used alarming anti-arab and anti-muslim language held a competition to see who was the most afraid of Muslims, with Pataki taking the prize. On the issue of ISIL’s influence in the United States, Pataki proclaimed that “Religious liberty doesn't include encouraging a fellow American to engage in violent jihad and kill an American here. That is not protected free speech. That is not protected religious belief…I would do everything in our power not just to go after those who are here who we know who are here, before they can radicalize other Americans to carry out attacks, and it's not just the ones they've arrested.”

Governor Bobby Jindal, who echoed his previous beliefs about Muslim enclaves  taking over Europe, said “We must insist on assimilation -- immigration without assimilation is an invasion,” before asserting that President Obama lacks the  “moral honesty and clarity to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam, to say they've got to condemn not generic acts of violence, but the individual murderers who are committing these acts of violence.”

Lindsey Graham also fired some shots at the Middle East, claiming “You want to see a war on women? Come with me to Iraq and Afghanistan, folks. I've been there 35 times. I will show you what they do to women. These mythical Arab armies that my friends talk about that are going to protect us don't exist.” He also made a controversial comment about Muslims in the U.S., firmly asserting “If I have to monitor a mosque, I'll monitor a mosque”.

These types of statements were not limited to the candidates at the first debate stage. While most of the prime-time debate was driven by the antics of real estate developer Donald Trump, many of the candidates took a break from attacking each other to call highlight the threat of “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who firmly believes the United States is at war with the Islamic world minced no words in his criticism, stating that the fight against ISIL “is ideological, and let me contrast President Obama, who at the prayer breakfast, essentially acted as an apologist” stating that “We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s president al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.”

Almost all the candidates railed against President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Mike Huckabee—who recently compared the deal to the holocaust—claimed that “We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want”. Trump  referred to it as a “disgrace” that would “lead to destruction in large parts of the world.” Only Senator Rand Paul took a nuanced approach to the Iranian issue, stating that he would vote against the deal but did not immediately rule out negotiations, saying that we need to negotiate “from a position of strength”.

This was, however, a comparatively mild outing for Donald Trump, the current front-runner and the center of attention in the Prime-time debate. Despite insulting reporters, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, a moderator, three sovereign nations, longtime enemy Rosie O’Donnell, and calling American politicians “stupid”, he managed to exude a hint of restraint. He deflected questions about his previous support for single payer healthcare and his donations to the Clinton foundation, to the apparent frustration of the moderators. 

Two candidates in particular stood out amid the slugfest. Carly Fiorina managed to turn her lower tier debate placement into a victory, coming across as polished and electable. Ohio Governor John Kasich, debating in his home state, stayed out of the sparring and left an impression as a serious, mature candidate with nuanced views and a confident speaking style. While there are many debates left in the race, last night showed us that we won’t have to worry about being bored.

Hunter Headapohl is an intern with the Arab American Institute