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Civilian casualties in the fight against ISIS? Trump, Cruz, and Carson respond with ambivalence—at best.

Since the last Republican debate, Trump said he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS” and promised to “take out” the families of terrorists. And Ted Cruz said he would “bomb ISIS until the sand glows in the dark,” a statement that is both (literally) colorful and (ironically) dark at the same time. 

Pressed on these statements by moderator Hugh Hewitt, both candidates dodged the question. Trump responded with abstraction, saying, “I would be very, very firm with families. They might not care very much about their lives but they do care about their families’ lives.” 

Cruz doubled down by saying that he meant “using overwhelming air power to utterly … destroy ISIS,” and that he would bomb them wherever their soldiers were. Cruz didn’t specify how he would avoid citizen casualties or commit to avoiding them.

But Ben Carson’s response will ultimately be the one best remembered. Speaking about his recent trip to visit refugees in Jordan, Carson compared them to children he’d operated on, before implying that destroying ISIS at any cost—presumably including the deaths of civilians—would ultimately be a “merciful” decision. Hewitt called him out on it. The audience booed.