WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2015 – A Tuesday night debate among the Republican candidates vying for the highest office in the land dealt primarily with issues of national security, leaving agricultural and trade topics out of the discussion.
The debate, held before a crowd of about 1,400 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and televised on CNN, focused mostly on how to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other forms of terrorism. The nine top candidates in field were unanimous in their opinion that the Obama administration hasn’t done enough in the fight against ISIS, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he wants national security to be a higher priority.
“We need a president who understands the first obligation of the commander in chief is to keep Americans safe,” he said, a comment later echoed almost verbatim by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Topics relevant to food and agriculture policy were scarcely mentioned on the debate stage. Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a brief reference to the recently concluded climate change talks in Paris, but only to argue that the world leaders should have been discussing a plan to fight terrorism. Immigration was the ag-related topic that saw the most airtime, but it was approached through the lens of national security and refugee admission rather than through a guest worker program key to many in agriculture.
“We will not be able to do anything on immigration until we prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said.
The immigration topic provided a bit of humor as well, courtesy of Cruz, who said he planned to build a wall along the Mexican border, and then pledged to “get Donald Trump to pay for it,” a tip of the cap to Trump who has also promised to build a wall -- and to get help Mexico to foot the bill.
Trump doubled down on his wall-building pledge, saying “we either have a border or we don’t.” He said he’s not opposed to a wave of new U.S. citizens, but “they have to come here legally.”