With a world on edge after the coordinated terror attacks in Paris, and as criticism grows louder of the Obama administration’s handling of adversaries such as Iran and Syria, tough talk and defiance have become strong currencies in the presidential race.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s mild-mannered, soft-spoken demeanor – which helped endear him to many voters in the first place – now appears to be working against him, while Sen. Ted Cruz’s tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face style is now raising his stock.
In the crucial state of Iowa, which holds closely-watched caucuses, the event in Paris on Nov. 13 changed many conservatives’ preference for Carson and are sending them to Cruz’s corner, according to Politico.
In a new poll by CBS/YouGov, Carson dropped from the top spot among likely Republican voters to third place, with a support rate of 19 percent, while Donald Trump regained the lead with 30 percent. But the biggest gainer was Cruz, who soared into second place with 21 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio came in fourth place, with 11 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came in at fifth, with 5 percent.
Cruz further beat all the other Republican candidates when Iowans were asked "Who is most fit to be the commander in chief?" Some 67 percent picked Cruz, 51 percent chose Rubio and 49 percent said Trump.
At a major conservative event in Iowa over the weekend, many attendees said that while they still like Carson on many levels, they worry that he is not well-versed in global political issues and that he just isn’t hard-edged enough. Other residents of the state expressed similar misgivings about Carson, who briefly led the voter polls in the state.
“He’s a great guy, he’s fun to listen to but I didn’t hear anything substantive,” Politico quoted Alan Hilgerson, a physician, as saying about Carson. “I don’t know that I’d want him as my president.”
At the Family Leader Forum, a conservative gathering led by Bob Vander Plaats, an influential leader whose endorsement many GOP candidates actively pursue, those in attendance said that Carson’s vague comments about foreign policy and lack of experience in that area worried them.
By contrast, Cruz seized the spotlight, thundering about the need to have a tough approach toward Islamic State terrorists and those who are not on the side of the United States' efforts to fight terrorism.
“If you join ISIS, you are signing your death warrant,” Cruz said.
In an interview with Politico, Cruz acknowledged that the recent attacks have sharpened the focus among voters on national security.
“On the Republican side, I think the Paris attacks infuse a greater seriousness to the search for who is prepared to be commander in chief, who has the experience, who has the judgment, who has the understanding of the very real and growing threats facing America,” Cruz said.
“The overlay of the Paris attacks, even today the horrific attack in Mali, makes clear that we need a president who’s prepared on Day One to understand the nature of the threats facing America and to lead this country in standing up to these threats and defending our citizens from the growing menace of radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz said.
Cruz has called for barring Syrian refugees from coming to the United States.
“It is the height of lunacy for a government official to welcome in tens of thousands of refugees when we know that among them will be ISIS terrorists,” Cruz said last week.
The burning issue of national security has taken a stronger place in voters’ minds on the heels of a New York Times article that quoted a Carson adviser, Duane Clarridge, as expressing concern about the candidate’s foreign policy competence.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Clarridge was quoted as saying.
Clarridge said that Carson required frequent conversations on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
Another adviser, Armstrong Williams, was told Bloomberg TV, “He's not perfect. He’ll never be perfect, but he continues to surround himself with people and engage people who can enhance his foreign policy.”
He added that Carson “is learning, gaining confidence and making tremendous progress.”
Carson himself blasted the coverage about his difficulties with foreign policy issues, saying that everyone should always be on a learning curve.
"I get daily briefings, and I have multiple meetings with people," Carson said to reporters when asked about the New York Times story about his adviser’s misgivings. "What I would say is, listen to my policies. Actually listen to my solutions. You will find that they compare favorably with anybody. But don't listen to the narratives that try to say, 'Oh, he doesn't know anything,' and therefore I can say exactly the same things someone else is saying, and they say, 'Oh, look, he knows what he's talking about.'"
On the debates about monitoring mosques and barring Syrian refugees, Carson has said he feels any group or institution should be monitored if it draws concerns about terrorism.
In Iowa, on a stage alongside Cruz, Carson got some applause when he said the Obama administration was trying the hands of American troops and he accused the president of being an “armchair quarterback,” according to Politico.
But, again, Cruz overshadowed Carson when he said that, in fact, Obama was worse than an armchair quarterback.
“The policies he’s advocating are helping the other team,” Cruz said, which drew cheers and loud applause.
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