Maybe it was inevitable, with 10 candidates onstage. When the Democratic contenders were asked during Wednesday night’s debate to identify the greatest threat to the United States, what came back was a total lack of consensus. The exchange highlighted deeper divisions within the Democratic Party about the foreign-policy answer to Donald Trump’s blend of isolationism, mercantilism, protectionism, and bluster.
Here’s where the candidates landed:
John Delaney: China and nuclear weapons
Jay Inslee: Trump
Tulsi Gabbard: The risk of nuclear war
Amy Klobuchar: China in economic terms, and also Iran
Beto O’Rourke: Climate change
Elizabeth Warren: Climate change
Cory Booker: Nuclear proliferation and climate change
Julián Castro: China and climate change
Tim Ryan: China
Bill de Blasio: Russia
China popped up most frequently on the list—and in that sense, at least four Democrats share a major concern with Trump, whose trade confrontation with China is one of the defining issues of his foreign policy. Another top worry of Trump’s administration was notably scarce: At a time of escalating tensions in the Gulf, with Iran shooting down a U.S. drone and Trump nearly attacking the Islamic Republic, only Klobuchar mentioned Iran. Earlier, when the candidates were asked whether they would get back into the Iran nuclear deal as it was originally negotiated, everyone but Booker raised a hand; Booker said that while he thought it was a mistake to leave the deal—negotiated among Barack Obama’s administration, world powers, and Iran—he would try to use any leverage to get a better one.
Klobuchar took the moment to take a dig at Trump, declaring, “I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 o’clock in the morning.” She also argued that the president would have to go to Congress to approve any use of force against Iran, which is an issue of live debate at the moment. Trump has argued that he needs no such authorization, but some lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the defense budget to forbid the president from using funds to attack Iran without it.
As for the notable dearth of Middle East issues on the Democrats’ list, Trump, too, has often expressed a desire to stop focusing on there. Most of the Democrats tonight similarly set their priorities elsewhere.
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