After months of appeasement, GOP candidates finally say Trump’s gone too far

Donald Trump’s call for banning all Muslims from entering the United States — even citizens who are currently abroad — has (finally) flipped a switch in the Republican primary, giving his opponents something they feel comfortable attacking him over. As every Republican candidate was inevitably asked yesterday whether they agreed with Trump that it was time to keep all Muslims out of the country “until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on,” candidates from Jeb Bush to Ben Carson distanced themselves from Trump, calling his idea out for being the unconstitutional, un-American piece of nativist trash that it is.

Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina both called the idea “dangerous.” Chris Cristie called it “ridiculous.” Jeb Bush called it “unhinged.” John Kasich called it “outrageous.”

Trump’s more serious (as measured by poll standing) opponents, however, weren’t quite so critical. Marco Rubio merely said that he disagreed with Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States. Ted Cruz didn’t even go that far, simply saying it’s “not my policy.” Ben Carson endorsed the idea of monitoring everyone who visits the United States, but said that he opposed “being selective on one’s religion.”

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

But while even that is, by the current campaign’s standards, a pretty major break from Trump for the GOP field, let’s be clear, these guys are in absolutely no position to talk. For all of their newfound respect for American values, practically every Republican candidate has, at some point in the last month, bear-hugged the general concept of what Trump’s proposing. That being the case, Trump’s willingness to go there is the more honest move — internally consistent with the parallel universe he has created in the Republican primary.

You’ll remember that Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have both endorsed explicit religious tests for Syrian refugees entering the country that would only permit Christians to resettle. This is only slightly less-obviously unconstitutional than a blanket ban on Muslims, and is arguably harder to implement. Marco Rubio is actually to Donald Trump’s right when it comes to monitoring Muslims — citizens and non-citizens alike — who are already in the United States. Rand Paul has already introduced a bill in the Senate that would suspend all immigration from Syria and 30 other (predominantly Muslim-majority) countries.

All of these proposals send the same message: Muslims are a problem, and keeping Muslims out or sic-ing Big Brother on them while they are here is the solution. Banning them all from entering — feasible or no — is nothing more than the simplest formulation of the entire Republican Party’s core belief.

Which is why this isn’t an unfair summary of conservatives’ reaction to Trump’s position:

Conservatives don’t all agree with Trump on the merits, but after attack after attack on minority group after minority group has gone unanswered, the idea that this is finally the hill that Republican candidates are willing to die on seems odd and phony, to say the least. Donald Trump called most Mexicans rapists, and the GOP field said nothing. Donald Trump suggested that he got difficult questions at a debate because one of the moderators was menstruating, and the GOP field said nothing. Donald Trump called Jews money-grubbing wheelers and dealers, and the GOP field said nothing. Donald Trump explicitly endorsed torture and said that we need to bomb the families of suspected terrorists, and the GOP field said nothing. Donald Trump said that we might need special IDs for monitoring Muslims, and the GOP field shrugged their shoulders. Only now that he’s distilled their core religio-native belief into one simple sentence — “ban ALL the Muslims!” — have they perked up.

What part of “we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago” did they not understand?

As Erick Erickson wrote yesterday, clarifying that he disagrees with Trump on the merits but thinks the proposal is brilliant politics, for the GOP candidates to call Trump “unhinged” over these comments comes off not only as an attack on Trump, but as an attack on his voters. What Erickson didn’t say, because he’s complicit in this, is that Trump’s voters completely agree with him on the merits because they’ve been told that the average Muslim is dangerous and bad for fourteen years. That’s why it’s been so tough to go after him over these last five months.

For the party that is borderline obsessed with Chamberlain references, they should have known how far appeasement was going to get them.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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