Donald Trump made one of the most stunning political statements in recent memory yesterday when he 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.”
Campaign spokespeople quickly clarified that Trump was referring not only to a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants, but also to preventing Muslims from coming to the U.S. as tourists and possibly even preventing American citizens who are traveling or living abroad from returning home. (He generously made an exception for Muslim members of the military.)
Trump continues to be the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary. It’s time for party officials to reckon with what they have created.
Trump is the product of a party that has for decades thrived on stirring up fears of a scary “other” — from the Southern Strategy to Willie Horton to the persistent rumors that President Obama is a secret Muslim or Kenyan or both. The Republican establishment has for years tolerated its candidates rubbing shoulders with the most extreme elements of its base, whether it’s the white nationalists who have spoken at CPAC or the parade of extremists at each year’s Values Voter Summit.
But there are certain things leading Republicans have largely been careful not to say out loud. Until now.
Trump, building off the Right’s campaign to paint undocumented immigrants as dangerous invaders, launched his campaign by announcing that Mexican immigrants were rapists, drug dealers and other criminals. Then, when the news cycle shifted, he shifted his bigotry. He has spent the last several weeks repeating the objectively untrue claim that “thousands and thousands” of Muslim Americans in New Jersey took to the streets to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. He suggested shutting down some mosques and refused to rule out the possibility of a national database of American Muslims.
Trump’s relentless stream of bigotry isn’t turning away the far-right base of the GOP. Instead, he remains at the top of Republican presidential polls.
It’s not enough for Trump’s rivals and the party’s leadership to say they disagree with his absurd plan to bar Muslims from the country. They must reckon with what their party has become and, if they don’t like it, speak out forcefully on behalf of the American values of freedom, liberty and pluralism. It’s not enough for them to reject one outrageous plan. They must speak out against bigotry and prejudice. And they must make clear that even if Trump were to become the party’s nominee, he would be on his own.
The Republican Party created Trump. Now it’s time for them to take responsibility and, if they don’t like what Trump is saying, take a strong stand for what is right.