No doubt jealous that President Obama was getting all the attention for his latest inane speech, and worried that Ted Cruz had passed him in the polls in Iowa, Donald Trump offered his latest off-the-cuff, incendiary policy proposal: prohibiting Muslim immigration and foreign travel to the United States. There are five key points to make about this and the reaction to it.
1. It’s stupid and unworkable. A blanket ban on all Muslim immigration fits in well with Trump’s basic approach to politics, which is to use a jackhammer to screw in a nail. Not only does the proposal cast all Muslims together as the enemy, it could have potentially adverse foreign policy implications, as Ben Shapiro explains:
Kiss Our Intelligence Apparatus Goodnight. We need to work with Muslims both foreign and domestic. It’s one thing to label Islamic terrorism and radical Islam a problem. It’s another to label all individual Muslims a problem. That’s what this policy does. It’s factually wrong and ethically incomprehensible. Donald Trump has just transformed into the strawman President Obama abused on Sunday night.
It’s unworkable for all of the reasons Reihan Salan suggests:
So I understand Trump’s anxiousness, and I share in it. Where we part company is on how the United States ought to treat people who identify as Muslims going forward. I use this awkward locution (“people who identify as Muslims”) advisedly, because the screening mechanism Trump seems to have settled on is to ask travelers if they are Muslim and to turn away those who say yes. There is something almost quaint about this approach, as if we should expect that people who are trying to do us harm will play by the rules Trump has laid out and openly profess their religious beliefs, knowing all the while that it would lead to their exclusion from the country. Granted, there are many Muslims who would never deny their faith, even if it meant that they wouldn’t be allowed into the country. Indeed, I can imagine such professions sparking a social media campaign designed to discredit the exclusion of Muslims, and to celebrate principled resistance to it. The trouble is that terrorists rely on deceit to achieve their objectives, while the kind of people who’d never dream of lying about their religious convictions generally fall in a different category.
As usual, Trump is speaking off the cuff. Perhaps he is not entirely serious about simply asking people if they are Muslims or not, in which case he could rely on country of origin. Shall we exclude travelers from Muslim-majority countries? This approach would exclude Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and other religious minorities, and it would ignore the Muslim citizens of non-Muslim-majority countries, like India, Britain, or France. We might instead exclude people with Arabic surnames, as this is generally a good marker of Muslim ancestry, though not a perfect one: this approach would exclude some nontrivial number of non-practicing Muslims, converts to other faiths, atheists, and agnostics, not to mention a large number of Muslims who reject Islamism and Islamist violence.
Now I can already here the Trumpeteers shouting: aha, so that means you’re with Obama and just want unfettered Islamic immigration. Trump supporters and sympathizers have an unusually Manichean worldview: if you don’t support Trump that means you must support Jeb, if you disagree with banning Muslim immigration you’re for open borders, etc. On the contrary, it’s quite possible to disagree with the proposal to ban all Muslim immigration while simultaneously viewing President Obama and the left as dangerously naive when it comes to the problem of Islamic radicalism.
2. Trump doesn’t even mean it. As I wrote elsewhere, if Donald Trump became dictator tomorrow this ban would never occur, just as most of his over-the-top immigration proposals would never see the light of day. Trump offers up this red meat in the hopes of getting his supporters riled up while also getting his opponents to lash out in over-reaction. As usual, he accomplished both missions, and so in that respect Eric Erickson is correct in calling this a brilliant political move.
If you truly believe that this is a well thought out proposal, here’s the Donald explaining how it would work:
Willie Geist: Donald, a customs agent would ask the person his or her religion?
Donald Trump: They would be probably, they would say, ‘are you Muslim?’
Geist: And if they said, ‘yes,’ they would not be allowed in the country?
Trump: That is correct.
Wow, that’s almost as foolproof as asking immigrants if they are terrorists. This will certainly ensnare any would-be evil doers.
3. No, this will not help Isis. It has became all the rage to denounce all unpopular policy ideas as things that would be recruiting tools for ISIS. We were told that the refusal to allow Syrian refugees into the country would be used as a recruiting tool, and now we’re hearing that Donald’s proposal will only create more terrorists. I suggest we turn this idea around: I think that using the no-fly list as an excuse to deprive people of their second amendment rights without due process will only enable the terrorists, and will clearly create more jihadists.*
*No, I don’t actually think that, but it’s no less absurd.
You know what fuels the terrorists: our very existence. Some damned fool idea by a loud-mouthed American is not pushing anyone over the edge to jihad.
4. No, this is not unconstitutional. There seems to be an insistence in some quarters that all bad policy ideas are ipso facto unconstitutional. Jim Geraghty, for one, has been banging the drum on the proposal’s lack of constitutionality. Sorry to say bu the US government can pretty much restrict immigration to whoever the hell it wants. There is no constitutional right to emigrate here, and neither the first amendment or the ban on religious tests for public office speak to this issue. Unconstitutional does not mean “icky ideas.”
Now there has been some confusion as to whether Trump has lumped American citizens into this blanket ban, but it seems at the moment that this is confined to non-citizens overseas.
5. Only one person has not taken the bait. Like night follows day, the denouncements came in from all sides. Twitter quickly filled up with angry tweets, and presidential candidates giddily joined the fray. Jeb Bush, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio and pretty much the rest of the remaining GOP field quickly jumped in to declare how horrible a person Trump was.
Jeb Bush getting on twitter to denounce Trump might be the most tone-deaf political maneuver one can imagine. Donald Trump’s position as the lead horse in the GOP field is almost entirely due to Jeb Bush’s existence in the race. Bush’s continued delusional run – and lump Graham, Kasich, and most of the others in there – is what is keeping Trump atop the polls. Narrow the field to three candidates, or even four, and suddenly Trump’s 25 percent doesn’t look so impressive. Yet not only does Bush persist, he does the one thing Trump desires most: he gave him negative attention.
Only one GOP candidate didn’t take the bait, and it’s the one person who seems to know what the hell he’s doing. Ted Cruz didn’t denounce Trump, but instead chose a softer way to distance himself from the Donald:
“I do not agree with his proposals. I do not think it is the right solution,” Cruz said in the Capitol. “The right solution I believe is the legislation that I have introduced.”
More on what Cruz has proposed here.
So not only did Cruz refuse to poke the bear, he made his own policy proposal the centerpiece.
Amazingly Cruz is being roundly denounced himself by some for refusing to do his own denouncing. While it’s certainly possible that this is a cynical ploy not to anger Trump’s supporters for fear of alienating them down the road, it also happens to be the proper strategy, and one that other Republican candidates would be well advised to employ. Yet only Cruz seems to have the wits to understand this. That almost in and of itself is why Cruz is now in position to surpass Trump sooner or later.