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GOP Views on Muslims Supported         11/30 06:07

   Some leading Republican presidential candidates seem to view Muslims as fair 
game for increasingly harsh words they might use with more caution against any 
other group for fear of the political cost. So far, that strategy is winning 
support from conservatives influential in picking the nominee.

   (AP) -- Some leading Republican presidential candidates seem to view Muslims 
as fair game for increasingly harsh words they might use with more caution 
against any other group for fear of the political cost. So far, that strategy 
is winning support from conservatives influential in picking the nominee.

   Many Republicans are heartened by strong rhetoric addressing what they view 
as a threat to national security by Islam itself, analysts say. Because Muslims 
are a small voting bloc, the candidates see limited fallout from what they are 
saying in the campaign.

   "I think this issue exists on its own island," said Steve Schmidt, a 
Republican political consultant who ran Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential 
campaign. "It's highly unlikely to cause a political penalty, and there is no 
evidence that it has."

   Since the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, GOP front-runner Donald 
Trump has said he wants to register all Muslims in the U.S. and surveil 
American mosques. He has repeated unsubstantiated claims that Muslim-Americans 
in New Jersey celebrated by the "thousands" when the World Trade Center was 
destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

   "Donald Trump is already very well-known for being brash and outspoken and 
is appealing to a group of people --- a minority of American voters, but a 
large minority --- who seem to like that kind of tough talk," said John Green, 
director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

   Rival Ben Carson said allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. would be akin 
to exposing a neighborhood to a "rabid dog." Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 
said, "I'd like for Barack Obama to resign if he's not going to protect America 
and instead protect the image of Islam."

   Such statements appeal to Republicans who think Obama and Democratic 
front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, have not 
done enough to fight jihadis, Green said. The sentiment also plays well for 
evangelicals concerned about violence directed at Christians in the Middle East 
and angered about restrictions their missionaries face in predominantly Muslim 

   "There's a religious undercurrent here, aside from foreign policy issues," 
Green said.

   Other inflammatory rhetoric from the Trump and Carson campaigns has 
generated far different reactions.

   When Trump announced his campaign, he said Mexican immigrants are "bringing 
crime. They're rapists." He was widely denounced. Polls find Latinos strongly 
disapprove of his candidacy and his remarks alienated other immigrant groups.

   The potency of comments criticizing Muslims was apparent even before recent 
attacks by extremists in France, Lebanon and Egypt.

   Carson's campaign reported strong fundraising and more than 100,000 new 
Facebook friends in the 24 hours after he told NBC's "Meet the Press" in 
September, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation."

   Campaign manager Barry Bennett told The Associated Press, "While the left 
wing is huffing and puffing over it, Republican primary voters are with us at 
least 80-20."

   "People in Iowa particularly, are like, 'Yeah! We're not going to vote for a 
Muslim either," Bennett said at the time. "I don't mind the hubbub. It's not 
hurting us, that's for sure."

   According to a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, Republicans view 
Muslims more negatively than they do any other religious group, and 
significantly worse than do Democrats. A different Pew poll last year found 
that 82 percent of Republicans were "very concerned" about the rise of Islamic 
extremism, compared with 51 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents.

   Today, 84 percent of Republicans disapprove of taking in Syrian refugees, 
most of whom are Muslims, compared with 40 percent of Democrats and 58 percent 
of independents, according to a Gallup poll released just before Thanksgiving.

   In recent years, Americans' attitudes toward Islam and Muslims have been 
relatively stable following terrorist attacks. But opposition jumped in the 
run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and around major elections. To Dalia 
Mogahed, research director for the Institute for Social Policy and 
Understanding and former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim 
Studies, those are signs that "the public was being manipulated" by politicians 
with agendas.

   After the Sept. 11 attacks, when President George W. Bush visited a 
Washington mosque and said "Islam is peace," public opinion of the faith 
actually improved, she said. But the absence of such a leader has created a 
clear path for candidates who oppose Islam.

   "They've now latched onto Muslims as an easy target with no consequences," 
Mogahed said. "We've really moved the threshold of what is socially acceptable."

   Singling out Muslims is not new.

   Before the 2012 presidential election, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich 
called for a federal ban on Islamic law and said Muslims could hold public 
office in the U.S. if "the person would commit in public to give up Shariah." 
Huckabee, then considering a presidential run, called Islam "the antithesis of 
the gospel of Christ."

   But candidates at the top of the field stayed away from such rhetoric.

   "The kind of things that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are saying today are 
things that Mitt Romney would have never said," said Farid Senzai, a political 
scientist at Santa Clara University. Romney was the Republican nominee in 2012.

   Criticism of Muslims is hardly limited to presidential campaigns. In recent 
years, there have been ads by anti-Muslim groups and well-organized campaigns 
against the building of mosques, along with pressure on state legislatures to 
ban Shariah law.

   "All of these things --- built up over more than a decade by a few very 
vocal people --- have created a climate in which it is not just acceptable for 
politicians to play to our basest instincts, but perhaps politically 
expedient," Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, 
said in an email.

   The intensity of the rhetoric is partly a symptom of the large field of GOP 
candidates, all trying to stake out ground to prove themselves as the most 
patriotic and toughest on national security, said Charles Dunn, former dean of 
the school of government at Regent University, which was founded by Pat 
Robertson, an evangelist and one-time GOP presidential candidate.

   "The tone is much more strident now, much less forgiving," Dunn said.

   American Muslims make up just under 1 percent of the U.S. population, Pew 
estimates. They come from many different backgrounds and are widely dispersed, 
limiting their political influence, Green said.

   The Muslim Public Affairs Council, a policy and advocacy group based in Los 
Angeles, sent letters in October to all the presidential candidates asking them 
to attend the organization's public policy forum. The candidates either did not 
respond or declined, council spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed said.

   "Over the last 10 years, the political and civic organizations for U.S. 
Muslims have become much better organized, but I think their voice is still 
fairly muted," Green said.

   Even so, some observers say the verbal attacks risk alienating larger 
segments of voters, particularly other immigrants worried they could be next.

   Suhail Khan, who worked in a number of posts in George W. Bush's 
administration and has decried criticism by Republican politicians of fellow 
Muslims, said: "There's no doubt that when specific candidates, in this case 
Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump, think that they can narrowly attack one specific 
group, other Americans of various faiths and backgrounds are paying attention."


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