Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. won’t destroy his candidacy—but would severely threaten the party's chance at the White House in 2016 if he’s the nominee, GOP strategists and pundits said.
Trump in a statement on Monday called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on,” days after a mass shooting in California that authorities say was an act of terrorism by a radicalized Muslim couple. The temporary move wouldn’t betray the Constitution and would be waived for Muslim heads of state, he said on TV on Tuesday.
His plan ignited a firestorm among rival Republicans, Democrats, and party chairpeople in the three states that will hold the first nomination votes next year. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump’s proposal “is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a vocal proponent of stronger counterterrorism measures, said Trump's proposal “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
But GOP voters' antipathy toward Islam and frustration with President Barack Obama, plus competitors’ inability to outmuscle Trump so far, suggest this won’t be the uproar that finally ends his bid and clears the way for a stronger nominee to face Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic standard-bearer.
“Hate Donald Trump all you want, be offended by his proposal all you want, but it is really brilliant politics for Trump right now in the Republican primary and the reactions from the other candidates prove it,” wrote conservative radio host Erick Erickson. Candidates “attacking Trump on his immigration proposals now attacking him on this have done themselves no favors within the primary process” by aligning themselves with Obama on both issues in voters’ eyes.Angry Voters
Trump's critics have become all too familiar with the pattern: The New York billionaire says something they consider offensive, sexist, or racist; prognosticators forecast his downfall; but he stays strong or even rises in GOP polls. The pattern held when Trump trashed migrants from Mexico, attacked Senator John McCain's war record, and insulted Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
Polling indicates Trump’s suspicion of Muslims will appeal to many Republican voters. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute released last month found 76 percent of Republicans say Islam is “at odds with American values and way of life,” compared to 43 percent of Democrats. A survey by the Pew Research Center last year found Republicans rate Muslims more negatively than any other religious group, giving them an average of 33 on a scale of 100, compared to 71 for evangelical Christians, 67 for Jews, and 66 for Catholics.
In a Bloomberg Politics national poll conducted last month, 32 percent of Republicans said Islam is “an inherently violent religion” that leads its followers to violence.
“As much as anyone may disagree with his policies (and I do), Trump is not hurting himself with GOP voters with his negativity toward Muslims,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, on Twitter.
Trump has led nearly every national Republican poll for five months, cruising past 30 percent in some surveys while rivals in the historically crowded field struggle to approach that threshold.