Republican presidential candidates spent a fair bit of time at Tuesday night’s debate arguing about whether it was smart or moral to kill innocent family members of terrorists.
Naturally, Donald Trump was in favor of the carnage.
“We have to be much tougher, we have to be much stronger than we've been,” said the Republican front-runner. “We have people that know what is going on … I would be very, very firm with families. And frankly, that will make people think, because they may not care much about their lives. But they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives.”
And also in favor, it appeared, was Dr. Ben Carson, who compared civilian casualties to the pain inflicted on brain cancer patients as they undergo surgery to have a tumor removed.
“You have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it's actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by a thousand pricks,” he said.
It was a surreal moment: The candidates took it for granted that collateral damage was to be expected, international norms and treaties be damned. And, for a brief few seconds, the crowd seemed to rise in appreciation. When co-moderator Hugh Hewitt, no shrinking violet when it comes to conservatism, asked Carson if he was “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocents children and civilians,” the crowd mercilessly booed.
But sure enough, the notion that any price is worth paying was challenged. And it was former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) who picked up the mantle.
“This is another example of the lack of seriousness,” he replied. “This is troubling because we're at war. They’ve declared war on us and we need to have a serious strategy to destroy ISIS. But the idea that that is a solution to this is just, is just crazy. It makes no sense to suggest this.”
Trump made funny faces the entire time Bush spoke.
"The problem is, we need toughness," Trump responded. "I think Jeb is a very nice person, but we need tough people, we need toughness."
The two then engaged in a substance-free slap-fight.
A bit later, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also took a swing at Trump -- not on the grounds that his kill-the-family-members proposal wasn’t serious, but that it was illegal.
“If you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize there is something called the Geneva Convention that we would have to pull out of,” said Paul. “It would defy every norm.”
In a remarkable moment that will forever be remembered in this campaign and campaigns to come, Trump, one of the most egocentric political personalities of any generation, admitted that Paul was … OK, he didn’t budge a bit.
“So they can kill us but we can’t kill them?” he asked rhetorically.
See the latest updates on the debate here.
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