Election 2016

Hardline Racist Rhetoric Takes Centerstage in GOP Debate — Even Without Trump

Trump hardly has the monopoly on Islamophobic hysteria in the Republican field.

Photo Credit: via YouTube

When asked in last night’s debate whether he would go after “mosques, diners, any place where radicalization is occurring,” Senator Marco Rubio responded, “[W]hen I am president of the United States, if there is some place in this country where radical jihadists are planning to attack the United States, we will go after them wherever they are, and if we capture them alive, they are going to Guantanamo.”

Senator Ted Cruz, pressed on his “tough talk,” reiterated his former call to employ “carpet bombing” in the fight against ISIS and “terror,” invoking a chilling U.S. precedent. “You want to know what carpet bombing is?” he asked. “It's what we did in the first Persian Gulf war; 1,100 air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy.”

Multi-billionaire Donald Trump did not have to be present at last night’s debate, just ahead of the Iowa caucus, for his virulent brand of hawkish, racist rhetoric to take the stage. Candidates spent the evening seemingly competing over who could run furthest to the hardline right, including on U.S. policies toward people seeking refuge from war and poverty.

Among them was Rep. Rand Paul, who called for increased scrutiny of “those who are coming as students, those who are coming as immigrants, those who are coming as refugees.”

Such rhetoric comes despite the fact that people applying for refugee status already face a burdensome, and in many cases prohibitive, process for asylum, which includes at least 21 steps and can take years. Whatever laws are on the books, meanwhile, many are denied due process, with reports emerging that some Central American refugees caught in the recent raids are being sent into deportation proceedings in violation of the U.S. government’s own stated policies.

Perhaps most alarmingly, anti-refugee language is building in the midst of an election cycle where GOP candidates have largely refrained from criticizing Trump for invoking the U.S. policy of interning Japanese-Americans during WWII as justification for his proposed ban on non-American Muslim immigration.

When Muslim-American video blogger Nabela Noor asked former Governor Jeb Bush what he would do to address the “toxic climate” of rising attacks against Muslims, the candidate sought to present himself as a moderate.

“Well, first of all, I think it's important that when we're running for the highest office in the land that we recognize that we're living in dangerous times and we have to be serious about it, that our words have consequences,” Bush said. "So, I think it's important for us to be careful about the language we use, which is why I've been critical of Donald Trump,” he continued.

The candidate, however, declined to disavow his previous statement that the U.S. should reject Muslim Syrian refugees yet welcome those who are Christian.

There are signs that such rhetoric is making its way to the other side of the aisle. When asked in the first Democratic debate which enemy she was "most proud of," former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton listed “the Iranians” among her top foes.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.