WASHINGTON: From immigration to the thorny issue of gun control, from America’s flimsy economic recovery to the fight against jihadists, White House rivals are clashing on multiple fronts as they woo voters.
If the state of the economy dominated the 2012 race in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the debate over keeping Americans safe amid heightened concerns over the threat of terrorism has emerged as a primary topic in 2016.
After savage attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State extremists and the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California by a US-Pakistani couple, the American appetite for waging war against IS radicals grew dramatically.
The issue vaulted to the top of the list of voter priorities, according to at least two major polls, and White House aspirants — particularly Republicans — seized on the fear.
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump fueled concerns about Muslims, insisting — without evidence — that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were seen cheering the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Trump and other Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, increased their saber-rattling rhetoric, slamming President Barack Obama’s Syria policy as too weak and demanding both an intensified bombing campaign and more US special forces on the ground there.
Most Republicans also denounced Obama’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran. The accord lifts sanctions on Tehran, and Republicans argue Washington gave away too much while receiving little in return.
Among Democrats, whose nomination contest has sparked less intense passion, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and Maryland’s ex-governor Martin O’Malley have highlighted what they say are the dangers of the Republican positions.
Democrats warn that such stances only highlight a “clash of civilizations” that serves as a jihadist recruitment tool.
Security issues recently have spilled into the immigration realm. The Democratic candidates are united in welcoming Syrian refugees, but Republicans say not so fast.
Trump again stands out from the crowd by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States — a position that has sparked international outrage.
If Republican rivals believe such a policy is beyond the pale, they agree with him on the need to halt the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq until the US administration is better able to vet those who apply.
Democrats, for their part, largely favor policies that would legalize most of the 11 million people living in the country illegally, half of whom are from Mexico.