SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- The four candidates in the second tier of Republicans seeking the party's nomination Wednesday touted their foreign policy accomplishments and pressed for a harder line than that taken by Democratic President Barack Obama, including sending American troops back to Iraq to fight terrorists.
"We're going to kill every one of these bastards we can find because if we don't, they are coming here," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He would send 10,000 U.S. troops back to Iraq.
"These are barbarians," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "They are burning and crucifying people alive."
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, the son of two combat veterans, said more American troops are needed in the Middle East, but just 3,000.
"Today I think we are at a greater risk of attack than we have ever been," said Pataki, who was serving as governor during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania defended the Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to provide marriage licenses to gay couples based on her religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
Graham agreed religious beliefs must be defended and Jindal said the worst discrimination in the United States today is against "Christian business operators" forced to comply with same-sex marriage and other liberal measures.
Pataki disagreed, saying, "I would have fired her."
"I believe there has to be room" to defend religious beliefs, Santorum countered.
"My response," Pataki said, "is kind of 'Wow' . . . then you don't have the rule of law."
On the economy, the candidates supported taxing wealthy hedge fund operators more.
"I would throw out the entire corrupt tax code," Pataki said.
Santorum wants a 20-percent flat tax: "That will create growth . . . We will create more jobs with this plan than any other plan."
Graham opposed an increase in the federal minimum wage. "The middle class has been squeezed and squeezed hard," he said. adding he would help business grow instead and create jobs.
"When it comes to hardworking Americans at the bottom of the income scale, we can't provide some kind of income support?" Santorum asked. "How are we going to win if 90 percent of Americans think we don't care about them?"
The candidates also bristled at questions about front-runner Donald Trump, who was in the other, prime-time debate featuring those polling the biggest numbers.
"Let's stop treating Donald Trump like a Republican," Jindal said. "He believes in Donald Trump." While "the idea of America is slipping away . . . do we turn this over to a narcissist who only believes in himself?," Jindal said.