BY BEN LEHMAN As the Syrian conflict and the threat of ISIS continue to dominate national headlines, a major shift has occurred in the focus of the 2016 Presidential race. Foreign policy has taken center stage as the ongoing refugee crisis, the attacks in Paris last month, and most recently the shooting in San Bernardino have intensified the public’s concern over national security. Voters are making it clear they seek a President who has the knowledge and capability to protect them in times of crisis. Candidates have laid out their strategies to defeat ISIS and the broader threat of terrorism to assure voters of their fortitude. Changing poll numbers indicate how influential a candidate’s foreign policy stances are in this election. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are gaining support because of their foreign policy experience, but former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who once tied with frontrunner Donald Trump, is plummeting.
A string of embarrassing gaffes in the past weeks showed Mr. Carson is inept in foreign policy, and his poll numbers have suffered as a result. His pronouncing of Hamas as “hummus” during an address to the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum last week drew mockery, and the media pounced on his mistaken assertion that China was involved in the Syria crisis. In an effort to mitigate concerns over his inexperience, Mr. Carson traveled to Jordan in November to meet with Syrian refugees, but the move was seen as desperate, and the damage was already done. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Mr. Carson dropped to third place among Republican candidates, now at 16%, compared to 23% last month. The poll had Carson tied with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, just behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio with 17%.
Mr. Carson’s downfall has directly benefited Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz, both of whom have far greater foreign policy experience than Mr. Carson. The Senators have lately been addressing security issues such as ISIS and Syrian refugees in their speeches to show off their expertise to voters. Both have called for aggressive US action in Syria, capitalizing on the fervor generated by the shooting in Paris.
Mr. Cruz employed some fiery rhetoric in a speech in Iowa on Saturday, promising “relentless” bombing of ISIS, and saying he would “carpet-bomb them into oblivion.” This strategy is proving effective, as Mr. Cruz is popular among Iowa evangelical conservatives, who are a major voting block in a state that is crucial for any candidate. Mr. Rubio has tried to cut into this demographic by meeting with evangelical leaders, but he still lags behind Mr. Cruz.
With only a one point margin between Mr. Cruz and himself, pressure has been mounting on Mr. Rubio and he is stepping up his attacks to maintain his lead. Mr. Rubio is trying to portray his rival’s stance on Syria as soft and not interventionist enough, and he has frequently criticized Mr. Cruz for his positions on immigration and the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans. All of these issues are going to be major deciding factors for GOP voters, and it will come down to who can weather the attacks the most.
Senator Cruz may be raking up all the support that Ben Carson lost, but this campaign has shown how quickly popular support can change. As of now it is likely Cruz and Rubio will battle it out for the nomination, and it’s in the best interest for the GOP to have one of them going up against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, as opposed to Mr. Trump, whose buffoonish antics are destroying Republican credibility. Mr. Trump’s most recent Nazi-esque call to ban all Muslims from the country will only further alienate moderate voters, and his nomination would undoubtedly send a Democrat directly into the White House.