On day of Republican debate Trump stirs up hornets nest, receives near universal condemnation and goes UP in some polls!
On the eve of Tuesday’s important Republican debate, all eyes, once again, are on Donald Trump. As most readers of this blog are aware, early last week Trump made his most inflammatory anti-Muslim proposal to date*, 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).” He compounded the invective by citing, as precedent, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. His proposal followed the bombings in Paris and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. By applying a religious test for admission, most constitutional scholars felt that it was unconstitutional. Others noted that the internment of Japanese-Americans is considered one of the darkest governmental acts in U.S. history. Condemnation of Trump was immediate. Nearly all Republican leaders and candidates (with the notable exception of Ted Cruz) denounced Trump’s proposal as “un-American,” “disgusting,” “not who we are,” and much worse. Several said it disqualified him from being the Republican nominee. He was, many said, playing right into the hands of ISIS and surely would help terrorist recruitment. Virtually all of our allies abroad condemned Trump. In the UK, hundreds of thousands signed a petition calling for a measure to prevent Trump from entering their country. Our moderate Muslim allies were chagrined, or worse. Even France’s far right leader, Marine Le Pen, whose anti-immigration stand marked her party’s identity, rejected any comparison with Donald Trump and his policy. Trump responded by saying that his detractors were not “being nice” to him, a code of his for suggesting retaliation, and he once again threatened to run as a third-party candidate. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu disavowed Trump’s religious test as well. Trump then announced cancellation of his planned visit to Israel later this month. And this is the man who claims he’s a great unifier.
If Donald Trump is being shunned by Republican Party leaders, he still resonates with the everyday Republicans. Polls taken following Trump’s promotion of a religious test for admission to the U.S. are just beginning to come in. Tuesday, December 15, ABC had Trump up with 38 percent, 23 percent over the grouping of Cruz, Rubio, and a falling Carson. The WSJ/NBC national poll released Sunday, December 12, was conducted from the 6th to the 9th and it showed Trump leading the field with 27 percent and his nearest competitor (Cruz) by 5 points. The smaller sampled Monmouth poll, taken between December 10 through 13, showed his support at a campaign high 41 percent, fully 27 points higher than Cruz, in second place. The reason for Trump’s increased support is easy to fathom. It is a visceral response to terrorist fears. Terrorism has moved to the top of the poll respondents’ concerns–and, among Republicans, Trump is perceived as the best candidate for dealing with terrorism. Again, a disconnect, as the same respondents view him much lower in terms of handling foreign policy–skills that will be essential in combating terrorism. It seems clear that the bombastic, blustering, self-aggrandizing style that Trump embodies is translated by Republicans, at a gut level, into strength. There are examples of this phenomenon in the many countries that have turned to military dictators in times of fear.
There is a bit of a paradox in these poll results. The same polls show Hillary beating Trump in a match-up–and she does better against Trump than any of the other Republican hopefuls. Indeed, some conservative Republican leaders have wondered if Donald Trump could be a “Trojan Horse,” set up by Democrats to destroy the Republican party. Trump’s former praises of, and funding for, Clinton’s campaigns and the Clinton Foundation, feed this kind of conspiracy thinking. Brian Cates, the Conservative commentator, is more direct. He wrote: “Trump didn’t jump into this race because of his deep abiding love for America, or his being a Republican or caring about conservatism…Trump jumped into this race because BILL CLINTON urged him to.” BBC recently noted that this is not a new idea. They point out that as far back as July, well known conservative George Will asked: “If Donald Trump were a Democratic mole placed in the Republican Party to disrupt things, how would his behavior be any different?” A week later, Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo suggested that Donald Trump was a “phantom candidate recruited by the left.” He went on with his conspiracy theory noting: “Mr Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton…They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons’ foundation. He has contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious.”
Most liberal Democrats I know, while feeling that Trump would be the easiest Republican to beat, fear that his demagoguery is too awful to risk in these days of uncertain terrorist actions. More than once I’ve heard the analogy between current times and the rise of Hitler in Germany during a period of economic crisis fear.
Meanwhile, polls taken in Iowa, home of the first primary election, point to more circumspection among Republicans who have had the most exposure to Donald. On Saturday, December 12, the highly respected Des Moines Register poll, showed Cruz moving into the lead in Iowa by 10 points over Trump. On Monday, December 14, the Quinnipiac poll for Iowa had Trump and Cruz in a statistical tie for first. Even though there are but seven weeks left before the caucuses in Iowa. Quinnipiac found that 53 percent of the Iowans polled say they might change their mind. The polarizing nature of Trump’s campaign was demonstrated in Quinnipiac’s finding that among Iowa Republican Caucus-goers, 30 percent say they “would definitely not support” Trump.
Donald Trump may not be the great unifier that he claims he is, but there can be little doubt that he is a great chaos-maker. One the great ironies of this election is that the hated and feared jihadists may well hold the key to the Republican nomination in their hands. Continued terrorist acts, unquestionably, play well for Trump’s campaign. The most significant question that strikes me about the Republican debate Tuesday night is how intimidated the questioners will be in their questioning of Donald Trump. Will he be held accountable for his own words? Or will they give him a one-off question so as not to risk a third-party run, which most observers agree would insure a Clinton victory? The Republican National Committee has negotiated the terms of the questioning. If the questioners have somehow been forced into such a deal, will his opponents let him off the hook so easily?
*Trump had previously called for surveillance against mosques and said he was open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S.