Fear and terror stole the Republican debate stage on Tuesday night.
In the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Americans see terrorism as the top issue facing the U.S. And if people were already scared, watching 13 presidential candidates spar over who is best equipped to defend the nation against terrorism probably didn't help.
"We have entered World War III," former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania declared less than a minute into the undercard debate. His proclamation would set the tone for more than four hours in which candidates spared no effort to paint the threat from the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other jihadists as existential.
"We're at war folks, they're not trying to steal your car, they're trying to kill us all," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "The next 9/11" is "coming soon," he warned later.
The candidates spent much of Tuesday's debates talking about ISIS and Islamic terrorism. Other threats, including gun violence, climate change and domestic terror carried out by white extremists -- all of which kill more Americans at home than jihadists -- were ignored. If the point of Islamic extremist terrorism is to make people terrified, Tuesday's debate was proof that it's working.
The debate hosts didn't help. CNN opened the prime-time contest with a Michael Bay-esque graphics package that featured a movie-trailer-style announcer proclaiming that the presidential race was taking a "critical turn, with terror fears front and center" and clips of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and angry clown Donald Trump talking about terrorism -- all over action-movie music.
"America is at war," said Cruz in his introduction. "Our enemy is not violent extremism. It is not some unnamed malevolent force. It is radical Islamic terrorism."
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson piled on. "We have to get rid of all this P.C. stuff and people are worried about somebody’s going to say that I’m Islamophobic or what have you," he said. "This is craziness. We are at war. That’s why I ask Congress, go ahead and declare the war. We need to be on a war footing. We need to understand that our nation is in grave danger."
Moderator Wolf Blitzer echoed that sentiment. "The fight against radical Islamic terrorists and ISIS has been called the war of our time," he proclaimed.
Later, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Blitzer's co-moderator, seemed to be egging the candidates on. "We’re talking about ruthless things tonight: carpet-bombing, toughness, war," Hewitt said to Carson. "People wonder, could you do that? Could you order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and thousands? Could you wage war as a commander in chief? … Can you be as ruthless as Churchill was in prosecuting the Nazis?"
Carson, perhaps flustered by the question, argued that his work as a neurosurgeon -- with children's lives in his hands -- prepared him for tough moral decisions and possibility of civilian deaths during an air campaign against ISIS.
“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,” Carson said.
So who -- besides ISIS -- was on the receiving end of the bellicose rhetoric? Refugees fleeing ISIS. Santorum called for "making sure that we stop the flow of refugees into Europe." Former New York Gov. George Pataki elaborated: "No Syrian refugees," he said. "Whether it's the 10,000 Obama wants or the 60,000 that Hillary Clinton wants. Think about it, I was governor on Sept. 11th. Those attacks were carried out by only 18 people. We take 60,000 Syrian refugees that we can't vet. If one in 1,000, 1 in 1,000 is a terrorist, we would have 60 terrorists living amongst us looking to carry out attacks. We cannot let that happen." Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), generally regarded as a dove on immigration, called for a "time-out on Syrian refugees."
American Muslims also continued to serve as punching bags for the GOP field, with some candidates repeating calls for increased surveillance of mosques and more aggressive monitoring of other activities that could be seen as "radicalizing."
In his closing statement, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued that "terrorists win when they make us change everything we do in our daily lives and alter our routines. And they're doing that, from getting on a plane to going in a building." But Huckabee's policy prescription was the same as his competitors': Kill all the people who scare us.
"It is high time that we recognize that we have to take them out, not a little bit, but totally ...," Huckabee said. "I want my grandkids to grow up not in fear, but in faith and in freedom."