GOP Debate: As Fiorina Calls for More Arms to Middle East, Paul Warns Against Military Intervention

September 17, 2015


John Nichols

political writer for The Nation and the author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street. His piece for is headlined "Unlike Trump, Rand Paul Actually Made Some Sensible Points During the Debate."

David Cay Johnston

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times. He’s currently a columnist for Al Jazeera America as well as a contributing writer at Newsweek. His latest book is Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality. He has been covering Donald Trump for various publications for decades

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina joined the prime-time Republican debate lineup for the first time in this campaign season, after surging in the polls in recent weeks. She emerged as a fierce hawk on foreign policy issues, calling for sending more arms to the Middle East and warning that one of the first calls she would make as president would be to demand Iran open up its nuclear facilities to U.S. inspectors at any time. In contrast, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul decried U.S. interventionist policies abroad, saying, "We have to learn sometimes the interventions backfire. The Iraq War backfired and did not help us." Real estate mogul Donald Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also sparred over the legacy of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy decisions. For more on the candidates’ foreign policy positions, we’re joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston and political writer John Nichols.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library hosted the second Republican presidential debate last night as 11 candidates took to the stage. Four candidates lagging behind in the polls debated earlier in the day. Wednesday marks the first prime-time debate including former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. During the debate, she laid out part of her foreign policy vision.

CARLY FIORINA: Russia is a bad actor, but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side, and we have all of that within our control. We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We have it. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven’t. I will. We could also, to Senator Rubio’s point, give the Egyptians what they’ve asked for, which is intelligence. We could give the Jordanians what they’ve asked for—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Ms. Fiorina.

CARLY FIORINA: —bombs and materiel. We have not supplied it.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you.

CARLY FIORINA: I will. We could arm the Kurds. They’ve been asking us for three years. All of this is within our control.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina at Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate. In another part of the debate, Donald Trump criticized the record of former President George W. Bush. In this clip, you’ll hear Jeb Bush’s response, as well as Rand Paul and Governor Scott Walker. It begins with Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.

JEB BUSH: You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald. You remember the—the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around it? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe.

DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know. You feel safe right now? I don’t feel so safe.

SEN. RAND PAUL: May I respond?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: That’s because of Barack—that’s because of Barack Obama.

JEB BUSH: Not because of my brother.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: That’s because of Barack Obama. We’ve had a president who called ISIS the JV squad, Yemen a success story, Iran a place we can do business with. It’s not because of George W. Bush. It’s because of Barack Obama. And when it—and when it—but here, on that point, though, whether it’s—whether we’re talking about national security, foreign policy, or we’re talking about domestic policy, the key—

DONALD TRUMP: Or the collapse of the economy.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: The key issue here is talking about leadership. Now there’s a lot of great people up here, and you’ve heard a lot of great ideas out there. But I would ask the American people, look at who’s been tested. When there were 100,000 protesters in my capital, I didn’t back down. When they issued death threats against me and threats against my family, I didn’t back down. When they tried to recall me, I didn’t back down. And when they made me the number—one of their number one targets last year, I didn’t back down. Give me the chance to be your president.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Senator—

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: I won’t back down on any of these issues.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Paul?

SEN. RAND PAUL: The remark was made that there hadn’t been anyone else on the podium opposed to the Iraq War. I’ve made my career as being an opponent of the Iraq War. I was opposed to the Syrian war. I was opposed to arming people who are our enemies. Iran is now stronger because Hussein is gone. Hussein was the great bulwark and counterbalance to the Iranians. So when we complain about the Iranians, you need to remember that the Iraq War made it worse. Originally, Governor Bush was asked, "Was the Iraq War a mistake?" And he said, "No. We’d do it again." We have to learn sometimes the interventions backfire. The Iraq War backfired and did not help us. We’re still paying the repercussions of a bad decision.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Rand Paul. Before that, Governor Walker, and before that, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump.

To talk more about the Republican debate, we’re joined by two guests. David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, he’s currently a columnist for Al Jazeera America as well as a contributing writer at Newsweek. His latest book is Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality. He has been covering Donald Trump for various publications for decades. And John Nichols joins us from Madison, Wisconsin. He’s political writer with The Nation, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street. His latest piece for headlined "Unlike Trump, Rand Paul Actually Made Some Sensible Points During the Debate."

So, John Nichols, let’s begin with you. Assess the debate that took place in Simi Valley at the Reagan Presidential Library last night.

JOHN NICHOLS: It was very, very long, and there were some points at which it actually offered a little bit of insight. But the fact of the matter was, it was painfully overfocused on Donald Trump, to the point where even when Trump wasn’t saying much of consequence, the camera was on him. And because of that overfocus on Trump, you ended up with a highlighting of his back-and-forths with Carly Fiorina. Now, if you only analyze this debate from a standpoint of who was glib, who was quick-witted, who, you know, jumped in at critical points, I think Fiorina gets a lot of marks for this, and Trump gets some of his marks.

But if you step back and you analyze it from a standpoint of what was accurate, what was realistic, that clip you just showed was an incredibly powerful one. There was Jeb Bush saying that his brother kept America safe, seeming to forget that September 11th—the attacks on September 11th occurred when his brother was president, and that there was a—there’s a host of serious, thoughtful questions that ought to be asked there. Instead of—instead of countering them, here you have Scott Walker come in with essentially a campaign commercial where he repeats his kind of fantasies about standing up to workers in Wisconsin and somehow that making him a great leader.

And then, finally—and I thought this was a really important part of the debate—finally, Rand Paul steps in, A, with a measure of history, pointing out that he was in fact an opponent of the Iraq War and a critic of it, but, B, in that answer and in a number of other answers, really posing, for the first time, I think, a clear alternative on foreign policy and, to some extent, on domestic policy. I know that most of the pundits and analysts will not say that Rand Paul did great out there, that he won this debate, because he wasn’t some glib, you know, quick-answer player here, but the fact of the matter is, it was Rand Paul who pointed out that the Iraq War was a bad idea, that Carly Fiorina’s talk about not talking to Putin is a terrible idea, that the casual talk of some of these candidates about intervening and putting troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq is an awful idea. And so, the fact of the matter was, if you watch Rand Paul in this debate, although I disagree with him on many issues, I think he was the guy who brought some serious insight to it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Cay Johnston, your thoughts watching the three-hour debate last night?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I was struck by the appalling lack of knowledge by a number of the candidates and how many just flatly false statements were made that weren’t pursued at all by the questioners. This really isn’t a debate; it’s sort of an opportunity for candidates to show off various points. But what I found most troubling was any—lack of specifics of any kind. You know, Donald Trump has yet to be tied down on just how and with what legal authority, unless he’s the dictator rather than the president, he would round up 11 million people and throw them out of the country. A number of the candidates—Ben Carson in particular—I mean, Ben Carson is a great personal story and a terrific neurosurgeon, pediatric neurosurgeon, but it’s eminently clear that he knows very, very little to nothing about the issues you need to know as president.

I was also struck by how subdued Donald Trump was, both during the debate and afterwards. And those of us who have known Donald for a long time know that sometimes he is very, very energetic, and there are other periods when he is much more like he was last night, quite subdued and different in his behavior.

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