Why the GOP Candidates Struck So Hard at Obama in the Debate
Policy + Politics

Why the GOP Candidates Struck So Hard at Obama in the Debate

REUTERS/Randall Hill

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Thursday night called President Obama a “petulant child” who insists on having his way on gun control and other issues, even if it means subverting the constitution. He promised Republicans would kick his “rear end” out of the White House in November.

Christie’s attack on Obama kicked off a barrage of attacks on the president from several of the presidential candidates during the Republicans’ two-and-a-half hour nationally televised debate from North Charleston, S.C.

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Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even typically mild-mannered former Florida governor Jeb Bush all piled on with attacks that questioned the two-term Democratic president’s patriotism, loyalty to the U.S. military and willingness to live within the Constitution.

It soon became clear that there was more than vitriol behind the blitz. This appeared to be a strategic plan to link Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, to the Obama presidency, which was painted as a dangerous failure.

It was a long night laced with comments about Obama’s “betrayal” of members of the military and their families, his hatred of gun owners and the Second Amendment, his stupidity and ineptness as a negotiator, his propensity to leave U.S. allies in the lurch and his nearly total mishandling of the economy. Obama is Clinton, Clinton is Obama.

In a presidential campaign season, the incumbent president and his policies are fair game for criticism and attacks from the opposite party. And in the case of Obama, there is plenty to attack – from his handling of the Affordable Care Act to his halting policies in Syria and the Middle East to his tactics against ISIS to his repeated use of executive orders to end run Congress on immigration policy, gun and climate change.

But attacking President Obama was really about attacking Hillary Clinton.

  • “Median wages have stagnated. And the Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country.” – Ted Cruz
  • “The first impulse of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is to take rights away from law- abiding citizens.” – Jeb Bush
  • “You cannot give Hillary Clinton a third term of Barack Obama's leadership.” – Chris Christie 

Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate, repeatedly declared he was fed up with the “stupid, stupid” negotiated deals and policies of the Obama administration – most notably the recently concluded nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Iran that will lift many economic sanctions against Tehran and free up $150 billion of Iranian assets.

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Trump’s coarse language and unstinting attacks on Obama and other government and congressional leaders – Democrats and Republicans alike -- have drawn positive responses from the GOP’s conservative base and given license to others to try to match or top him. This has become increasingly the case as the early caucuses and primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire draw near and the field of viable candidates begins to narrow to Trump, Cruz, Rubio and just a few others.

Describing government servants as morons and incompetents is what you expect from an angry reader who posted a comment a blog that made his blood boil — not from a candidate for president of the United States.  

Here are several examples of some of Thursday night’s overheated rhetoric.

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Chris Christie:  "I hope the President is watching tonight because here's what I'd like to tell him. The American people have rejected your agenda and now you're trying to go around it. That's not right. It's not constitutional. And we are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.”

Marco Rubio: “Barack Obama does not believe that America is a great global power. Barack Obama believes that America is an arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size. And that's how you get a foreign policy where we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel and we gut our military and we go around the world like he has done on 10 separate occasions and apologized for America.”

Jeb Bush: “In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can't even project force. Our friends no longer think we have their back and our enemies no longer fear us, and we're in a much difficult -- we're in a much different position than we should be. And for the life of me, I have no understanding why the president thinks that everything is going well. Terrorism is on the run, China, Russia is advancing their agenda at warp speed, and we pull back.”

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Ted Cruz: "’13 Hours’ -- tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them. I want to speak to all our fighting men and women. I want to speak to all the moms and dads whose sons and daughters are fighting for this country, and the incredible sense of betrayal when you have a commander-in-chief who will not even speak the name of our enemy, radical Islamic terrorism, when you have a commander-in- chief who sends $150 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, who's responsible for murdering hundreds of our servicemen and women.”

Donald Trump: “I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They're tough, they're strong, they're great people. Half of them had tears pouring down their face. They were watching the humiliation of our young ten sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up. And Iranian wise guys having guns to their heads. It was a terrible sight. A terrible sight. And the only reason we got them back is because we owed them with a stupid deal, $150 billion. If I'm president, there won't be stupid deals anymore.”