The absence of frontrunner Donald Trump at the seventh Republican debate on Thursday produced a markedly different event from what we've seen in the primary so far. It was the candidates' final chance on stage to win over Iowan voters before next week's caucus and much of the ominous tone of the Republican primary was present. But the standout theme at last night's GOP debate was John Kasich's message of unity and optimism, as the Ohio governor pushed to counter the now-familiar apocalyptic rhetoric.
Touting his experience and record as a reformer, Kasich said at the debate:
You know, the situation is this. We cannot fix things in this country — the Social Security, the border, balancing the budget, getting wages to grow faster — unless we lead as conservatives, but we also invite people in from the other party. We have to come together as a country. And we have to stop all the divisions.
The governor also emphasized cooperation with allies to defeat a common enemy, a position that he said the United States is prime to lead.
"We have a unique time in America to connect with people all around the world that understand that there's an existential threat against all of them — the Arabs, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians, our friends in Europe, including the Turks," Kasich said. "So we have a unique opportunity to bring everybody together."
But Kasich wasn't the only one. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who delivered perhaps his strongest debate performance yet, urged his rivals to rein in some of their more bombastic, potentially alienating statements that could hurt them in the fight against ISIS.
"We need to deal with ISIS in the caliphate," Bush said. "We need a strategy to destroy ISIS there. You can't do that without the cooperation of the Muslim world because they're as threatened as we are. So, I think it's important for us to be careful about the language we use... We're never going to win elections if we don't have a more broader, unifying message."
Cover image via Scott Olson/Getty Images.