Republican First District Congressman Rick Crawford and his Libertarian opponent, Mark West, criticized their opposing parties’ presidential nominees and disagreed about America’s role overseas during a lively debate sponsored by AETN. The debate airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Asked how he would explain Donald Trump’s recent comments about women to his female constituents, Crawford said the comments disturbed him but that Trump is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton, whose policies would be a continuation of President Barack Obama’s.
“The saddest part about this is that in spite of all the things that Donald Trump has done or is accused of having done, he’s still a better choice than Hillary Clinton,” he said.
West said there is another choice: the Libertarian nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
“Character has to matter,” West said. Describing Trump, he said, “I teach my daughter to avoid guys that talk like this. I teach my sons not to become men who says these type of things.”
West was asked to defend Johnson’s recent inability to identify the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, or his declining to name a single world leader he admired. West said he didn’t admire any world leaders either because they use the power of the government against their own people.
Crawford said Johnson had been the CEO of a marijuana company and said there’s a reason he has low poll numbers. He criticized him for being “a former Republican who has chosen to be a Libertarian and espouses the policies of social liberal policies but fiscal conservatism.”
“That’s trying to have it both ways,” he said. “You’re either conservative or you’re not, and this is an idea to placate both sides.”
Asked how to cut government spending, Crawford said a hiring freeze across government should be instituted and every federal agency, including the Pentagon, should be audited. However, he said across-the-board cuts are irresponsible because some needed programs would be cut. West said the United States should end wars of intervention and regime change that create a “never ending cycle of warfare.”
The next question was about what do to prevent terrorist cells from opening in Arkansas. West said Americans can keep themselves safe with their own guns. He said in the name of defeating terrorism, the government is spying on its own citizens’ email. He said Trump and Republicans must stop insulting Muslims and instead work with them to find terrorist cells.
“We don’t stop homegrown terrorism by trying to chase terrorists in holes and caves all over the world,” he said.
Crawford said the government has a constitutional role in maintaining a standing army and providing for a common defense, and that West’s position is “intensely naive.”
“We can’t retreat to the cocoon of our shores and our borders and pretend that nothing going on in the world is ever going to touch us because we have folks at home that can take care of themselves,” he said.
Asked whether American troops should be sent to Syria, Crawford said it would depend on what they are asked to do. He said the Syrian refugee crisis should be addressed through safe zones in the region rather than relocating the refugees. He said the United States must have a presence in a Sunni Muslim-led coalition with small numbers of U.S. troops providing support.
“When we don’t lead, bad things happen. Voids invariably lead to things that are not good for our nation,” Crawford said, specifically including issues dealing with trade deals and global commerce.
West said the United States can advocate for its interests without having to use the military everywhere those interests exist. He said Syria is “the outflow of everything we’ve been doing internationally” and said Russia wants Syria to be the next proxy war with the U.S. Earlier, he said the United States has “an interventionist foreign policy that needs to stop.”
The two candidates vying to represent the agriculture-based First District also discussed farm policy. Crawford said the government must provide food security for Americans for national security reasons. He said farmers would like a free market, but a safety net is necessary because farmers have so little control over the market. He said he is trying to incentivize farmers to fund their own disaster relief and said agricultural lenders need more flexibility than the Dodd-Frank banking bill gives them.
West said farm policies prevent farmers from managing their own farms and amount to central planning of agriculture. A pastor in the rural farming community of Oil Trough, he said the farm bill is a form of “bait and switch. We’ll give you this, but we’ll take that. … everything from the government comes with strings attached.”
The two agreed that the trade embargo with Cuba should be lifted. Crawford said the approach should be incremental, and the restriction on Cuba buying American products on credit should be ended. West said the two agreed, but Trump would not support lifting the embargo.
The two candidates both oppose the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. West said the law should be repealed along with other regulations that keep health care from being a free market and said Americans should obtain insurance individually rather than through their employers.
Crawford said health care should be addressed through tort reform, by making insurance available across state lines, and by making coverage portable across employers.