In their clandestine headquarters half-a-world away, the Islamic State’s terrorist leaders are surely celebrating. A huge recruiting bonanza has just been gifted to their mass-murdering cause by America’s Republican Party presidential front-runner, Donald Trump.
It was a gift the Islamic State terrorists could never have given themselves.
This week, the world’s most famous multibillionaire, being every bit as clueless and unprincipled as he is rich and ego-centric, raced unthinkingly into a trap Islamic State leaders had long been baiting. As the United States and Europe reeled after terrorist bloodshed committed by Islamic State agents and sympathizers, Trump sought to achieve political gain by taking the hardest line yet sounded in the presidential campaign. And he wound up delivering the very message the Islamic State recruiters hoped they could con some Westerner into saying.
On Monday, Trump proposed in a written statement a ban on the immigration into the U.S. of all who practice the Islamic faith – a religious test that conservative legal experts say that would violate the Constitution. Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
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When he repeated his call in front of a large rally in South Carolina, he added: “We have no choice. We have no choice. We have no choice.” Trump’s audience cheered.
Understand the manipulation game that has been going on in the world of Muslim terrorists: The Islamic State’s sophisticated webmasters have been skillfully using social media to recruit disaffected Muslims in Europe and North America – mainly by convincing them the West is hatefully anti-Muslim. Recently, European and U.S. leaders have been working with computer tech experts to devise ways of countering the success of the Islamic State’s recruiters.
Sadly, Trump just spread their message farther and far more convincingly than the Islamic State manipulators ever could. One by one, prominent conservative Republicans were quick to criticize Trump’s proposal. He was sharply denounced by most of his opponents for the GOP presidential nomination.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio criticized Trump’s “habit of making offensive and outlandish statements.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Trump had become “unhinged.” But Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, who is desperately hoping to pick up any support Trump might lose along the campaign trail, could barely bring himself to mildly dissent, saying only: “That is not my policy. I believe the focus should focus on radical Islamic terrorism.”
In contrast, leading Republicans who aren’t running for president felt no constraints as they blasted Trump’s idea. “This is not conservativism,” declared House Speaker Paul Ryan. “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, is not what this country stands for.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Trump’s proposal to ban “a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
Trump’s response to all of that criticism from the party he says is his own (at least at this point in the campaign) was to make the rounds of the free TV interviewers and carefully appear to be firmly defending all that he said before. But the more he was asked about his critics, the more he began to emphasize that he wasn’t really proposing anything permanent, just something that should be done short term – until Washington can figure out who the radicalized Muslims are and weed them out of the multitude that are seeking to come to the United States as refugees.
As always, Trump maintained his substantive style of not providing substance to explain how his proposal might work. Among the unanswered questions: If a Middle Eastern refugee seeks to immigrate to the United States, how would officials know the applicant is a Muslim? By asking? And what if the immigrant says he or she is a Christian? Should officials accept that as proof?
But this much is knowable: Someday we will look back and realize that Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 – the day Trump uttered his unfocused, unexplained, unconstitutional idea – was the day the GOP 2016 presidential race changed, big-time.
Perhaps it will be remembered as the day when Republican primary and caucus voters finally realized Trump, their longtime front-runner, can never be presidential.
Or perhaps it will be remembered as the day the GOP voters decided The Donald is indeed their idea of presidential – so what if his ideas are neither presidential nor constitutional?
But for now, one thing more remains unknowable: If Trump is fired by GOP primary and caucus voters, will he risk forever tarnishing his reputation by running for president as an independent?
My guess is he’d rather shave his head.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.