By Ian Edwards
Understanding what makes Republican candidates attractive to today’s voters is essential to having a real debate on the issues, especially on the Middle East. As citizens, we have to move beyond looking at personas and focus instead on the policies. In an election where Trump is himself a debate issue, pushing past these shallow, bombastic personalities and really thinking about their positions, regardless of allegiance, is critical for the future.
The Republican field in this election has displayed a tumultuous cavalcade of characters. At a quickening pace, the primaries are being dominated by a handful of voices, leaving many candidates by the wayside, like Senator Lindsey Graham. According to CNN polls, the South Carolina Senator had been polling at less than 1 percent before his exit from the primary.
Graham announced his exit from the race in a YouTube video that his campaign released mid-December. In the video, Graham claims that while he never thought his campaign could win the nomination, he believed that he had brought many issues to the national spotlight, including Putin’s aggression, Iran’s nuclear program and the containment of ISIL. Graham’s concern was that these policies would be obscured by the pomp of Trump’s presidential run.
Many liberal media outlets bemoaned such a moderate voice departing from the Republican field. This attitude is reasonable, for Graham has been fighting for climate change and immigration reform during his tenure in office. In the Republican race, he was adamant about bipartisan outreach. However, despite this cooperative attitude, Graham still maintains a pro-interventionist “boots-on-the-ground” foreign policy in the Middle East, which has been waning in the Republican party’s leadership.
Graham’s exit gives insights into the direction of Republican foreign policy in the Middle East, and what conservative voters want in their candidate. As a member of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee, Graham has had more foreign policy experience than most of the Republican field, having called for direct military intervention against ISIL.
Clearly, Graham’s aggressive stance on the role of the U.S. in the Middle East is decreasing in popularity given the anti-establishment nature of Republicans such as Rand Paul. But with the rise of ISIL, candidates such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have risen in popularity, even though the candidates have interventional platforms similar to Graham’s, according to the New Yorker. Thus, Graham’s efforts to inject his view on foreign policy have been successful, but he has been unsuccessful in mobilizing conservative voters.
The fact that Graham started an entire presidential campaign just to put foreign policy issues into the debate shows how domestic issues are at the forefront of this election. This is illustrated by looking at the policies of the most recognizable faces of this Republican race: Ben Carson and Donald Trump (although Carson is no longer the runner-up to Trump, according to a Huffington post poll). Carson is the only candidate to achieve anywhere near Trump’s polling numbers, polling the highest on October 29, 2015 with 21.6 percent. Donald Trump is polling at 38.6 percent as of December 30, 2015.
Both of these candidates have very muddled views on Middle East policy. For example, Trump stated in an NBC interview in October 2015 that if Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were still in power, the Middle East would be in better condition. Similarly, Carson, during the Milwaukee Republican debate, gave a response that was just as misinformed about the geopolitical situation in the region, stating that the Chinese are a major faction in the area — a false statement, according to the Washington Post. The Republican voting base’s willingness to accept these candidates could indicate a disinterest with these issues, bringing into question what is making these candidates attractive.
Instead of platform, Republican voters are attracted instead to their candidates’ outside nature. This shift in the conservative camp is an extension of the anti-establishment conservative forces that have been building since the economic collapse of 2008, and the subsequent birth of the Tea Party movement. Trump led in a Quinnipiac University poll with Tea Party-identified voters with 32 percent as of November 22, 2015, edging out Ted Cruz with 30 percent.
A Washington Times article cites members of the Tea Party’s leadership who liken Donald Trump to non-career politicians such as John Wayne and Ronald Reagan to explain Trump’s success. The article explains that these non-career politicians strike at a yearning for betterment instead of playing at ideological issues. This this is why the non-career politicians such as Trump, a businessman, and Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon, have been outpolling political veterans like Graham.
With most of Republican media covering Trump’s latest controversy, voters must learn to prioritize platform over persona.
Ian Edwards is a first year undeclared major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.