On Monday, Donald Trump’s campaign put out a statement: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.
According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing ‘25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad’ and 51% of those polled, ‘agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.’ Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.
“Mr. Trump stated, ‘Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.’ ”CommentaryOpinion: America has survived Donald Trump beforeMore coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaign
A spokesman later clarified he meant all Muslims — presumably tourists, citizens, diplomats, soldiers and foreign leaders. (Later on a Fox News appearance, Trump suggested military personnel could return.)
No one should have been surprised by Trump’s spasm of hatred. On Monday afternoon, a Monmouth poll showing him slipping to second place in Iowa came out.
Trump’s narcissism, one can imagine, prompted him to wrench back the limelight, as he has done in the past when falling off the media radar screen. His favorite technique is appealing to anger, fear and bigotry. So we get the Muslim ban.
But we should not be surprised for another reason. This past summer, as soon as he went after Hispanic immigrants as criminals — and many in the party were mute or defensive — we knew he’d play the bigotry card whenever convenient. If he was willing to go after Hispanics, then POWs and women, surely he would have no problem directing his venom toward Muslims.
Those in talk radio, micro-blogs and even mainstream conservative publications who showed interest in him and even admiration for him share some of the responsibility for creating the Trump phenomenon. And even if they are not conservatives or even voting Republicans, the people who turn out at his events have built up a dangerous demagogue who sullies the reputation of his party and his country.
The good news is that most of the GOP presidential candidates swiftly condemned his comments.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on “The Michael Medved Show” called the idea “ridiculous” and denounced it as “the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about.” He added, “We do not need to endorse that type of activity, nor should we.”
Jeb Bush called him “unhinged.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C., tweeted a plea for fellow Republicans to “condemn” Trump. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been lambasting Trump for weeks, put out a statement, saying, “This is just more of the outrageous divisiveness that characterizes his every breath and another reason why he is entirely unsuited to lead the United States.”
Carly Fiorina also criticized Trump, calling his proposal as dangerous an “overreaction” as the president’s “underreaction.” Coming later in the evening, Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., statement was weirdly restrained, considering Trump was most likely playing off Rubio’s declaration the night before that there is no widespread discrimination directed toward Muslims. (“I disagree with Donald Trump’s latest proposal. His habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.”)
There were two notable exceptions. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would only say that Trump’s policy wasn’t his policy, and Sen Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., spokesman ignored Trump, choosing to cite his own credentials. (“Sen. Rand Paul has led on the issue of border security, proposing real solutions.”)
Maybe these two freshmen senators simply did not understand the moral implications of Trump’s proposal or lacked the courage to call him out, for fear of incurring a bully’s wrath. More likely, they — especially Cruz — are fishing for Trump voters, willing to tiptoe up to the anti-immigrant line just far enough, they hope, to entice some angry voters.
Their lack of stature was evident. Cruz, who has been under fire for a phony “no amnesty” plan that is no different than other candidates’ (e.g., he’s unwilling to round up millions of people and deport them by force), was not about to put any more distance between himself and Trump.
Other leaders spoke up as well. Russell Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted, “Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty will denounce the reckless, demagogic . . . plan for Muslims.”
The head of the New Hampshire GOP state party, Jennifer Horn, also spoke out: “It is un-Republican. It is unconstitutional. And it is un-American.”
As of this writing, the Republican National Committee — which has gone too far for some in tolerating Trump — was mute. Former VP Dick Cheney appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show declared that Trump’s plan “goes against everything we believe in.”
Does any of this hurt Trump — or Cruz and Paul? Paul is already in low single digits, so he does not have far to fall. As for Cruz and Trump, even if their devoted followers — who are inured to or even supportive of the xenophobic appeals - are not going to be turned off, these two have capped their appeal. Beyond their core support, they have no sell.
Mainstream and somewhat conservative voters outside the Trump crowd (disproportionately poorer with less than a high school education) are not going to join up with these two; unless Trump and/or Cruz can turn out hordes of previously non-voting Republicans, their upside in the race is limited.
Nevertheless, some soul-searching in many quarters — among Cruz and Trump defenders, right-wing media and right-wing moneymaking groups — is long overdue. In perpetuating a sense of betrayal and fanning the flames of conspiracy and know-nothingism, they create phenomena such as Donald Trump. Watching his rally in South Carolina — where he decried the press as “scum,” focused his attention and ire on a particular female reporter present at the event and brought the crowd to its feet in support of his anti-Muslim scheme — one could see how an audience becomes a mob.
His audiences are not victims; they are participants in an ugly movement and should be held accountable for their — and his — rhetoric and actions.
Republicans who know better made excuses for Trump for too long and failed to denounce him when he first singled out a group (Hispanics) for invective. They avoided scrutinizing his daft proposals and unintelligible declarations for months. Mainstream Republicans need to assert themselves, wrest back control of the party and elect a respectable nominee. Cruz does not want to ruffle the feathers of the mob, but more responsible and principled Republicans should call on voters to be better, wiser and kinder than Trump.
Otherwise, the 2016 election will be lost and (deservedly) the GOP will be on the brink of collapse.