A troubling 65 percent of New Hampshire Republican voters in Tuesday night’s primary said they would support temporarily banning non-American Muslims from entering the U.S.
It’s an astounding statistic from a state that boasts of its independent voters. And while it's no surprise that Donald Trump, the man who called for the ban, claimed 44 percent of voters who supported the proposal, this small piece of exit polling data reinforces an unnerving sentiment -- that the substance of Trump's ideas, and not just his personality-driven candidacy, could dramatically reshape not just the 2016 race, but American politics.
Trump’s plan to ward of future terror attacks by broadly banning people of an entire faith first came in early December. Since then, the public has weathered two full months of ever-changing news cycles, presidential debates and campaign drop-outs. Still the idea continues to be a major issue for voters along the campaign trail.
Almost no other candidates are actively considering similar bans on Muslims, while a number of Republican elites have come in fierce opposition to the idea. But it's worth noting that the proposed Muslim ban helped propel Trump to the top of the polls in South Carolina, the next major primary in the GOP race. And with his resounding victory in New Hampshire Tuesday night, he is entering that race with an edge most likely afforded him by a controversial proposal that sets him apart from his opponents.
There was a short period of time when retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the flavor of the month. Carson appealed to South Carolina evangelical voters as a viable outsider to the Republican establishment. Carson chipped away at Trump’s lead in early November, bringing it down to a virtual tie.
Weeks later, Trump completely eviscerated Carson’s edge. Trump was in South Carolina the day he introduced his Muslim ban proposal, where he faced rounds of shock and backlash in the media and from top Republican leaders. But in a Fox News survey conducted in the days surrounding Trump’s policy proposal, released on December 7, he had surged to lead the pack by 20 points.
“It’s going to get worse and worse, you’re going to have more World Trade Centers,” Trump said before the crowd in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina on the day of his announcement. “We can be politically correct and we can be stupid, but it’s going to get worse and worse.”
He has managed to maintain that resounding lead ever since. According to the latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll in South Carolina, Trump is up by more than 16 points, followed far behind by Ted Cruz and then Marco Rubio.
More telling than Trump’s staying power in the presidential race is the apparent longevity of his ideas, which in any other political universe, would be considered beyond the pale.
Other controversial Trump proposals have come and gone. There was the plan to eliminate birthright citizenship -- the issue picked up wind with other GOP candidates until it became clear that the move would involve significant changes to the U.S. Constitution. Even the initial furor over his refusal to rule out a registry of all Muslims in the U.S. eventually died down as Trump has spoken favorably of the less extreme versions of surveillance that we’ve seen in the past.
What’s apparent out of the New Hampshire exit polls is that a controversial position, like banning an entire class of people from entering the country based on their faith, is becoming increasingly the norm in this presidential election cycle.
It not only helped Trump claim a commanding lead in a crucial early state, but it also inspired legislation in Congress, though an amendment mirroring Trump’s proposal failed to go anywhere. If taking controversial positions is the key to staying relevant in the race, then really, what’s next?