National Security Takes Center Stage at Iowa GOP Dinner

PHOTO: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during the Iowa Republican Partys Lincoln Dinner, Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. PlayCharlie Neibergall/AP Photo
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There was food, drink and plenty of glad-handing, but national security tough-talk stole the show in Iowa.

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After a week of questions about Jeb Bush and how to view the Iraq war in hindsight, most of the notable Republican candidates and potential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on Saturday night, for the Iowa GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner -- the latest early-voting-state event to draw a herd of White House hopefuls.

Many of them offered up stern warnings to terrorists and to President Obama for how he's confronted the threat.

"What did we learn tonight?" South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham asked. "If you're a radical Islamist, you've come to the wrong meeting."

National security is becoming a staple of GOP candidates' stump speeches at events like this one. Seemingly at every turn on the campaign trail, GOP candidates take swings at Obama for his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his reluctance to use the word "Islam" when he talks about jihadist terrorism.

"He needs to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, citing Obama's National Prayer Breakfast comment that during the Crusades and Inquisition, Christians committed "terrible deeds" in the name of their religion.

"I was governor on 9/11, and I saw the consequences of believing that because [radical] Islam is thousands of miles away, we don't have to worry about it," former New York Gov. George Pataki said.

The GOP's national security outlier is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has feuded with Republican colleagues in the Senate over drone, detention and surveillance policy. Paul and Graham differed on the question Bush spent the week answering: Whether the Iraq war was a good idea, in hindsight.

"Is Iraq more stable or less stable since [Saddam] Hussein is gone?" Paul asked. "Is ISIS more of a threat now because of the instability?"

It's nothing new for Republican candidates to point toward ISIS and criticize Obama in the same breath. Saturday night's speeches showed that it's not receding as a political topic for Republicans, and as more terrorist plots are hatched and thwarted, the topic will stay prominent in candidates' stump speeches.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry noted, in a speech that otherwise focused on possibilities for the future, that "you see ISIS showing up in Garland, Texas, and you realize that this is a challenging world that we live in."

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