Pre-Season, but not Dull 

The Republican Forum in Fredericksburg Thursday night offered insights into the range of opinions within the party around foreign affairs – and a few fireworks.

If politics were baseball, Thursday night’s Republican Candidates’ forum in Fredericksburg would have been just another preseason game. Of interest only to the most rabid fans. After all, most of the players, er, candidates, on the stage last night will be sidelined following the primary in June – when the regular season gets under way.

But primary forums, like preseason games, are not without moments of excitement.

This proved true when the six candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District seat – Derrick Anderson, Cameron Hamilton, Maria Martin, Jon Myers, Terris Todd, and John Prabhudoss – faced off at the Dorothy Hart Center Thursday night.

America and the Issue of FISA

Rich Anderson, chairperson of the Republican Party of Virginia and the evening’s moderator, set the tone for the event by reminding the candidates to “speak with a civil tongue,” and embrace the Youngkin-Sears-Miyares approach to civil discourse that helped the party sweep Virginia’s highest offices in 2021.

The candidates honored that request throughout the night, while fielding four questions about foreign policy and America’s role in the world, and two questions dealing with domestic issues.

On most of the questions, the candidates didn’t reveal a great deal of difference in their thought. This is typical in candidate forums during the primary season. No one wants to make a fatal mistake at this stage of the game.

But the third question of the evening – would candidates support the reauthorization of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – generated some excitement as a range of opinions emerged.

Prabhudoss was the first to answer, and acknowledged the issue was “contentious,” noting that America isn’t “living in a cocoon, … but in an environment where hundreds of thousands can cross the border…. We have to do something to protect the citizens.” Still, he recognized that we must “stand by the Constitution.”

Hamilton followed and broke firmly with his opponent. “No,” he said. He would not reauthorize FISA. “It’s violated our civil liberties,” he continued, and said “it has to go away.”

Anderson, who followed Hamilton, took a more-moderate position. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time,” Anderson said, FISA “is used to go after people overseas.” The problem is not FISA, but the “bad actors who abuse it. That is what has to be reformed.”

Myers – who like Anderson and Hamilton has a military background – seconded Anderson’s sentiment, stressing that “FISA is not the problem. Abuse of FISA is the problem.” In particular, he referenced FISA being used by politicians to target their political opponents.

Though not as dramatic as the FISA discussion, Anderson led the evening with a question that exposed a range of views the candidates hold about America’s role in the world.

Noting that America since World War II has led the international security construct, Anderson asked if that model still makes sense given the impact of globalization.

Myers’ response was assertive: “Globalism is communism in disguise,” he said. “The globalist vision,” he continued, is one that leads to the end of nation-states. He argued that the balance-of-power model made possible by nation-states has worked for several hundred years and needs to be preserved.

Martin spoke about how globalization – especially as it has played out through technology – has made the world “very small,” and that the U.S. must remain involved.

Hamilton, who has earned endorsements from members of the Freedom Caucus as well as from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, stressed the importance of America’s involvement in the world. “We need collaboration and partnerships,” he said. But, “America first doesn’t mean America alone.” He referenced his time in the State Department, where he saw first-hand how powerful and influential relationships with other countries can be.

Anderson tied globalization to business, and especially small businesses. Noting that China is making more things than America, and doing so for less, he talked of supporting small businesses so they can prosper.

Prabhudoss described the world as a “global village,” and said that our “government has not kept pace with” the changes. Migrants are coming from “Third World countries … to First World countries, and there’s going to be friction,” he said. Government policy and trade policy have not kept pace. His vision is to address those areas where we have fallen behind in managing the friction.

On the question of support for Israel, all six candidates expressed strong support as it deals with Hamas.

Asked to address what country is the greatest threat to America, there was also broad consensus – though not unanimity of thought.

Todd, referencing his work at the Heritage Foundation, stressed the threat that China presents America. In particular, he noted that the Chinese are increasing their presence in Africa, as well as other spots around the globe. Still, he continued, “you can’t fall asleep on places like Russia.”

School Choice

Education was also a topic of discussion, and the candidates mostly stressed the importance of parental choice and schools not “indoctrinating” students.

Anderson said that “Parents have a right to their kids’ education.” He emphasized the importance of dollars for education following the student and not the bureaucracy. He also stressed teaching children “how to think, not what to think.”

Myers echoed Anderson’s push to “depoliticize” the schools. He also said that the federal government needs to get out of the business of offering student loans.

Todd – a lifelong professional educator – noted that the federal education department accounts for less than 10% of most school budgets, but that they have an outsized impact on how schools operate. That balance needs to change so that power is in the hands of states and localities.

Still Preseason

It is still early in the game, but the range of answers last night was a refreshing breath of fresh air in the stadium of primary forums and debate.

With candidates tending to favor caution over boldness for fear of alienating voters, one doesn’t often get to see a great deal of difference in the people running. Last night’s candidates did exhibit caution, but also a willingness to take a hard stand on issues for which there are no easy answers.

Yes, the season begins the day after the June 18 primary. But from now until then, there should be plenty of interesting things that draw political fans out to watch as the Republicans decide who they will nominate.

by Martin Davis