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,"
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
"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
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."