The declaration of the billionaire on Monday has been heavily criticized, even among Republicans. But until now, his misdemeanors have always strengthened his lead.
The contrast is striking. And it shows the increasing polarization of American society. Sunday evening, during a solemn speech after the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Barack Obama called for rejecting all discrimination against the Muslim community. “We were founded upon a belief (…) that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law,” insisted the U.S. president.
The day after, Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, proposed “a complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. He said that many of them were imbued with a hatred toward America. “Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad,” lashed out the real estate magnate in his statement. After the attacks on Nov. 13, he had already proposed keeping records of all the Muslims living in the U.S. and eliminating all the families of jihadis.
“Irresponsible,” “outrageous,” “racist,” “insane”: Trump’s proposal — the proposal that would surely violate the U.S. Constitution — led to a veritable flood of convictions from the right and from the left. The White House said that Trump “disqualified” himself from serving as president of the U.S. “It’s morally reprehensible … it has consequences for our national security,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “Donald Trump is unhinged,” tweeted Jeb Bush, also a Republican presidential candidate. Even the very conservative Dick Cheney denounced an idea going “against everything we fight for and everything we believe in.”
Both the press and critics wonder whether Donald Trump has gone too far. Will this umpteenth provocation be too much, and will it be the one that will precipitate the fall of Donald, who has been ahead in the polls for five months? To believe his supporters’ first reaction, nothing is less certain. In a meeting on Monday night in South Carolina, the billionaire’s proposal received a standing ovation. “Send them back home,” shouted some supporters, referring to American Muslims. And when a demonstrator denounced a racist initiative, he was roundly booed off before being expelled by security.
“Trump is masterful at channeling many Americans’ worst impulses and their greatest fears, chiefly by demonizing anyone who doesn’t look like him: Muslims, Latinos, blacks and even women,” denounces USA Today in a scathing editorial where the billionaire is called “fear-monger in chief.” Faced with anxiety aroused by the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Trump plays pyromaniac firefighter. When Obama asks “not to give in to fear,” the real estate magnate arouses anguish.
Donald Trump is at war with Muslims, but he is also at war with Obama whose weakness and naiveté he keeps denouncing. Within the Republican electorate, and more precisely among Trump’s supporters, the hatred of the Democratic president is a powerful drive. Republican strategist Steve Schmidt told Politico that “What’s driving the ballot in the Republican primary is desire amongst Republican voters for a strong leader. The next president is almost always a reaction to the last president. When Republican voters look at Obama they see weakness, fecklessness and indecisiveness, and Trump is, in their estimation, the antidote to that.”
And what if making an enemy of all American politicians, Democrats and Republicans, was the intended effect, wonders Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the very conservative Red State? “This is a brilliant move,” writes Erickson, believing that with this polemic, Trump reinforces his status as an antisystem candidate.
Less than two months to the primary, Republican candidates endlessly wonder: How do we dethrone Donald Trump who still has 30 percent of the intentional vote, far ahead of his competitors? The task is all the more arduous [since] the billionaire spends his time caricaturizing reality and even lying shamelessly. “And Mr. Trump uses rhetoric to erode people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance (…) and the news media,” The New York Times wrote recently. To justify the shutdown of U.S. borders to Muslims, Trump cited a dubious “poll” claiming that 25 percent of Muslims agree with the idea that violence against Americans is justified. It’s a poll that was actually conducted by the Center for Security Policy, known for its Islamophobic positions.