Trump's grip on race unchanged by national security focus

Trump: I'm going to bomb ISIS
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Story highlights

  • Trump fans are showing no signs of wavering in their support of the New York real estate mogul
  • Some GOP leaders have hoped the shift to national security in the campaign would cause voters to drift away from Trump
  • "I think his attitude will get him through it"

Worcester, Massachusetts (CNN)Establishment Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush have seized on the sudden focus on national security to boost their credentials and try to knock Donald Trump from the top of the pack.

But days after ISIS claimed responsibility for killing more than 120 people in mass shootings and bombings across Paris, Trump's fans are showing no signs of wavering in their support for the New York real estate mogul. In fact, at his campaign rallies this week, Trump said they were more convinced than ever that he is best qualified to be commander-in-chief and confront ISIS.
"He makes decisive decisions and he doesn't back down. He doesn't go around the world apologizing," said Melissa Gower, a 43-year-old registered nurse from Chicopee attending Trump's Wednesday rally in Worcester. Tom Berry, a 48-year-old contract from East Windsor, Connecticut, echoed Gower.
    "We need a common sense approach to foreign policy as opposed to a politically correct, don't-want-to-hurt-anybody's-feelings approach," Berry said.
    Here in Worcester and at a rally in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Monday, Trump supporters said they were reassured by Trump's bombastic confidence on national security and fighting terrorism. And rather than take issue with the candidate's lack of political and military experience, some even said they preferred Trump's newcomer status to the political experience of more established candidates like Bush and Marco Rubio.
    "Even better," said Cameron Chafetz, an 18-year-old freshman at Clark University. "He's not afraid to hurt people's feelings when it's necessary."
    A new poll from Bloomberg News that was conducted entirely after the Paris attacks and released Thursday morning shows Trump leading nationally with 24% among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, followed by Ben Carson with 20% and Rubio with 12%. And compared to Ben Carson, respondents believe Trump can "best combat Islamic terrorism" 55% to 29%. (The same poll, however, said voters believe Carson "has the better temperament to be president," 68% to 25%.
    Others said the candidate's success in business and international travels have prepared him to deal with a range of foreign policy concerns.
    "I think his attitude will get him through it," said Gracie Blevins, a Harlan, Kentucky resident attending the Knoxville rally, adding that the U.S. needs a "bold and blunt person" in the White House.

    'Bomb the s--t out of' ISIS

    80 year-old Bobby Phillips, a veteran who served six years in the National Guard, said in Knoxville that he's simply "through with politicians" and touted Trump's ability to surround himself with the best advisers.
    "I know he don't know everything, but he's going to get the right man in there," Phillips said. "He's going to have nothing but the best."
    Since Friday's mass shootings and bombings in Paris that shook the world, the 2016 presidential candidates have turned their focus to national security, pivoting away from domestic issues like immigration and the economy that have dominated the race so far.
    The GOP hopefuls have leveled biting criticism of what they say is President Barack Obama's failure to confront the Islamic State's rise, particularly seizing on the president's recent claim that ISIS has been "contained."
    Trump, who often describes himself as "the most militaristic person" there ever was, has reacted to the massacre by reiterating his vow to "bomb the s--t out of" ISIS as president. The line has been met with raucous applause from his supporters this week.
    On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he would consider putting American troops on the ground in Syria, and that he would be much more aggressive than the current administration when it comes to air strikes aimed at taking out ISIS.
    "I would increase the frequency like you wouldn't believe," he said.
    The wealthy businessman is also doubling down on previous calls to reject refugees from the Middle East seeking to enter the United States, warning that terrorists may be posing as people fleeing persecution in countries like Syria.
    "This can be the great Trojan horse of all time!" Trump thundered on Wednesday.

    Carson's struggles

    If Trump is using the Paris attacks to reinforce his national security views, one other outsider GOP candidate -- Carson -- has struggled in his response.
    The retired neurosurgeon has repeatedly failed to give coherent answers to national security questions in recent days, and this week, the New York Times quoted an adviser to the candidate saying Carson is having trouble soaking in even basic foreign policy information.
    "When the New York Times says, from his top adviser and a couple of others, he's essentially incapable of learning foreign policy, I mean that's pretty sad," Trump said at a rally Wednesday night.
    The stumbles follow several perplexing comments from Carson, including his assertion that the pyramids in Egypt were likely used to store grain. Carson has also asserted that "the Chinese are there" in Syria, a statement interpreted as saying the Chinese military is operating in Syria. Carson's campaign later said that statement was misinterpreted by the press and that he was referring to the presence of Chinese weapons technology
    Michael Rooney, a 47-year-old respiratory therapist from Agawam, said that those remarks raised questions about Carson's intelligence and readiness to lead the country.
    "I think he is a man of good character but I don't think he is competent to lead," Rooney said. "His talk about Joseph and the pyramids -- he said that in a very serious vein, and I think he doesn't realize the nature of reality."