As self-parody goes, Donald Trump's doubling down on his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the country — "till
we have figured out what's going on" — on the debate stage last night can't be beat. And then, as if that was not enough, he even invoked unnamed Muslim friends who allegedly support his ban. "My Muslim friends, some, said, "thank you very much; we'll get to the bottom of it."
There is no reason to believe that these Muslim friends of Trump exist any more than the "thousands of Muslims" in New Jersey who he said he saw cheering the 9-11 attack. But one reason Trump keeps getting away with such nonsense is that mature, rational people simply don't know how to respond to such grade-school-level absurdity. A religious test on travellers to the country would almost certainly not pass constitutional muster except in a dire emergency. Trump had previously said the ban wouldn't apply to Muslim citizens. So, mercifully, Kareem Abdul Jabbar would still be able to come and go freely from the country. But it would presumably apply to any family members of American Muslims abroad. Such a penalty on American Muslims without any individualized finding of danger would violate the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and be constitutionally questionable.
You obviously can't try and explain such intricacies to a nasty hare-brain who trucks in inflammatory bromides. So what do you do? Condemn him? Ignore him? The first would be the most honorable course and the second understandable. But what the GOP luminaries actually did – i.e. sing and dance to Trump's tune – was neither. The only exception was Jeb Bush.
John Kasich, who had previously called Trump's suggestion "outrageous," seemed to back off on the debate stage last night. He countered Trump's blanket ban with his own mini-ban on Syrian refugees. Chris Christie seconded this idea while rattling his saber even louder. He said he wouldn't allow "Syrian refugees of any kind." Given that there are plenty of Christians among the Syrian refugees, this arguably goes even further than Trump's Muslim ban.
Marco Rubio, the erstwhile immigrant friendly candidate, didn't endorse any specific ban but just muttered vaguely that when he's president, "If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why are you coming…you are not getting into the United States of America." OK. But it's not like immigration authorities are currently rolling out the red carpet for any and all foreigners no questions asked. They stop people for the most trivial reason. (My 25-year-old Hindu cousin in India was refused three times for just a tourist visa, apparently, because she was a single woman at the time and so might have gotten married here or found a job and never left. Never mind that she is perfectly content in India and wouldn't accept a green card even if it was offered to her on a silver platter. Not even a letter from my local Congressman with the visa application persuaded the American consulate in India.) So what Rubio is suggesting is already policy, but, it makes him sound like a tiger and that's all that matters next to a pitbull like Trump.
Not to be outdone, Cruz bared his teeth and countered Trump's Muslim ban with a proposal to take away the passport of American jihadis. "If an American goes and wages jihad against America, then you forfeit your citizenship," Cruz said, adding that reentry to the country with a US passport would be blocked. Actually, if you go jihadi, you don't just lose your passport, you go to jail for a very long time. Just ask John Walker Lindh.
And then there was Ben Carson, who was constantly tickled into giggles by his own lines. He made the unfunny – and unremarkable – suggestion to get a "group of experts together… " in order to "come up with new guidelines for visas." But this is a copout masquerading as a plan.
Clearly, they were all uncomfortable with Trump's ban. But none of them were comfortable saying so – except for Jeb Bush who repeated that Trump's suggestion was "unhinged." A blanket ban on all Muslims would mean banning Kurds, who are America's chief allies in the battle against ISIS (as I wrote this morning) and Muslims from India and Indonesia, both friendly countries, he noted. (He might have also added Turkey, Malaysia, Albania and numerous others to the list.) This policy, he pointed out, would make it impossible to build the coalition necessary to take out ISIS:
We cannot be the world's policeman. We can't do this unilaterally. We have to do this in unison with the Arab world. And sending that signal makes it impossible for us to be serious about taking out ISIS and restoring democracy in Syria.
This was Jeb's finest hour on the stage but why didn't his fellow contestants back him?
The answer obviously is that they are afraid of Trump. Trump, as Abdul Jabbar has pointed out, is ISIS's greatest triumph. "[He's the] perfect Manchurian Candidate who, instead of offering specific and realistic policies, preys on the fears of the public, doing ISIS's job for them."
This callow man has infiltrated the Republican Party and turned it into the party of gloom and doom. It remains to be seen if he'll go much further. Regardless, given that his fear-mongering is now setting the GOP's tune, it should rename itself the CLP (Chicken Little Party).