The Republican presidential candidates’ reactions to last week’s terrorist violence in Paris has, at various times, been bewildering and depressing. Far-right politicians, eager to exploit fear and bigotry, have spent the week playing on conservatives’ worst instincts. It’s been about as ugly as American politics can get.
But even in the crowd, Donald Trump has stood out as … unique.
There’s been a gradual evolution to the frontrunner’s posture over the course of several days. On Monday, for example, Trump told MSNBC that he would grudgingly have to “strongly consider” using government power to shut down American houses of worship as part of an anti-Muslim agenda. On Tuesday, he went a little further, saying that when it comes to the government closing religious institutions, “We’re going to have no choice.”
When Trump sat down with Yahoo News, and a reporter raised the possibility of registering Muslims in a government database or creating special forms of identification for Muslim Americans, Trump responded, “We’re going to have to – we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely.”
There is, of course, a significant difference between failing to answer a specific question directly and making an explicit policy pronouncement – which is why, as Rachel reported at the top of last night’s show, Trump’s latest comments are so important.
Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, told NBC News on Thursday night that he “would certainly implement” a database system tracking Muslims in the United States.“I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump said in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign town hall events.
I think most reasonable people should be able to agree we’ve entered some pretty dangerous territory.
Here’s the transcript of the exchange between Trump and NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard from an event in Iowa.
NBC: Should there be a database system that tracks Muslims of this country?TRUMP: There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems. And today, you can do it. But right now we have to have a border, we have to have strength, we have to have a wall and we cannot let what’s happening to this country happening –NBC: Is that something your White House would like to do?TRUMP: I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.
Asked how a Trump administration would actually get Muslim Americans “registered,” the Republican candidate responded, “It would be just good management.” Asked if that would include going into mosques, Trump added, “To different places. You sign them up at different – but it’s all about management. Our country has no management.”
At another event, the same NBC News reporter asked, “Mr. Trump, why would Muslim databases not be the same thing as requiring Jews to register in Nazi Germany? What would be the difference? Is there a difference between the two?”
The candidate replied, “You tell me. Why don’t you tell me?” When pressed further on what the consequences might be for Americans who don’t register, Trump walked away and didn’t respond.
I’m going to skip the “has he finally gone too far” analysis because, let’s face it, that question has come and gone, over and over again, in recent months. In each instance, Trump’s support remains largely unaffected.
Indeed, it’s entirely possible that much of the radicalized Republican Party will be entirely comfortable with Trump’s latest comments. Public Policy Polling has found more than one-in-four GOP voters is on board with the idea of the government closing down every mosque in the United States. Roughly half of the Republican voters in Iowa believe practicing Islam in America should be illegal.
Trump, in other words, is giving voice to a radicalism that already exists in his far-right party.
But that does not mean the mainstream political world should simply roll its eyes, shrug its shoulders, and laugh this off as “Trump being Trump.” The idea of the federal government creating a registry of a religious minority, requiring Americans to enter some kind of federal database, is as disgusting an idea as has been offered by any major-party presidential candidate in generations.
This is not politics as usual. It’s far, far worse – and it is terrifying.