Gathering organized by extremist group that inspired GOP candidate's controversial proposal sees appearances from his competitors.
Last week, a number of Republican presidential candidates – including Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Santorum – devoted time to criticizing fellow candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to ban all Muslim immigration into the United States.
But on Monday, all three of them made appearances (some of them videotaped) at a Nevada conference run by the same organization who gave Trump the idea for his ban.
The “National Security Action Summit” in Las Vegas was primarily devoted to exploring all the possible dark corners of the possibility of a terrorist attack committed by Muslim immigrants, a constant theme of the Center for Security Policy, the extremist anti-Muslim group run by Frank Gaffney.
This included discussions of the possibility that President Obama is secretly a Muslim, the fear that refugees from Syria will include large numbers of embedded terrorists and the notion that American communists and liberals are conspiring with Muslim radicals to end democracy in the United States. One speaker even claimed that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is blackmailing people in Washington, including the current director of the FBI, just to stay out of prison.
But the highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the guest appearances by four presidential candidates – Cruz, Fiorina, Santorum and Ben Carson. Santorum appeared in person, while Cruz, Fiorina and Carson all sent recorded messages that were played for conference attendees.
Cruz was especially effusive in his praise for Gaffney, saying he was “a patriot, he loves this country, and he is clear-eyed about the incredible threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Frank Gaffney has been attacked over and over again for having the courage to stand up and speak the name ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ of the enemy that is waging jihad against us,” Cruz said, claiming that Obama won’t use the term.
Last week, Cruz addressed Trump’s proposed ban, saying: “I disagree with that proposal. … I believe we need a plan that is focused on the direct threat."
Fiorina’s video appearance was relatively brief. She told the audience: “I apologize that I can’t be with you today,” and then launched into harsh criticism of Obama and Clinton, saying their response to terrorist attacks made her “angry."
“Our most pressing national security threat is radical Islamist terrorism around the world and here at home, both lone wolves and packs of wolves. ISIS is an evil that must be confronted, it must be destroyed. They are at war with us and all we represent. And so we must wage this war and we must win.”
But last week, Fiorina had told an audience: “Donald Trump, for example, has been saying we’re going to use a religious test and ban people from coming into this country. … It’s a violation of our Constitution, but it also undermines the character of our nation. We stand for religious liberty.”
Santorum, who had been more temperate in his criticism of Trump, appeared in person, and never addressed the issue of Muslim immigration. He devoted most of his remarks to attacking Iran and defending Israel. At the end of his question-and-answer session, he was asked by a black woman to compare ISIS to American police who killed black men in custody, and adamantly insisted that the comparison was invalid.
Gaffney praised Santorum afterward, saying he had “maintained a perfect record” when it came to attending the “National Security Summits” the CSP had organized in various locales around the country.
Last week, he said he disagreed with Trump’s proposed blanket ban on Muslim, but suggested he would favor something similar, focusing the ban on travel from nations where extremism is rampant.
“I think that there are countries where we should not be bringing in people. Obviously, we should not be bringing in Muslims from those countries. I am not worried about radicalized Christians from Yemen, but I am worried about radicalized Muslims from those countries,” Santorum told a Des Moines audience.
Carson, who declined to criticize Trump’s proposal, also sent in a video, saying, “I wish I could be there with you. It’s such an important topic, particularly with the things that happened in France lately. And obviously, we all need to be thinking about what kind of security can we have at home.”
He continued: “We must recognize that we are at war. That means we must throw all this political correctness out the window, because that does not work when it comes to the safety of the American people. We have to learn how to prioritize. Safety of the people should always be right on the top shelf when it comes to our decision making.”
All of the Republican candidates are in Las Vegas today to participate in the final GOP primary debate.