On the Trump Muslim Proposal: It Depends What You Mean by "Brilliant"

I agree with my friend and mentor Erick Erickson that Trump’s proposal to both bar Muslims from entering the country and prevent any Muslim citizen who leaves the country from re-entering is almost certainly unconstitutional. That having been said, Trump is far from the first person who has proposed something that is facially unconstitutional as a campaign gambit.

Right now, for instance, the Democrats are demagoguing the hell out of a proposal that would allow the executive branch to deny second amendment rights to American citizens without due process, which is facially unconstitutional in addition to being stupid. If I had to pick which proposal is more obviously unconstitutional (and wrong), it would be the Democrats’; but the nature of the game is that the media calls the Democrats’ ploy brilliant and Trump’s unhinged.

That having been said, there’s room for the idea, as Erick posits, that Trump’s proposal is good politics, even if there’s no chance he can actually get it enacted due to the Constitution (not to mention, due to the fact that he could never wrangle such an idea through Congress in a billion years). I just don’t think that this qualifies as one of those ideas.

In the first place, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that if you disagree with Trump, then what you are saying is that the United States MUST allow Muslims into the country. I think a politician with some finesse could spin it that way (maybe a Rubio or Cruz), but “finesse” and “Trump” are not words that belong in the same sentence. When Trump is confronted with this on the campaign trail, I simply don’t think he has the wherewithal to get into the kind of exchange with a reporter, or another candidate, that would lead him to “gotcha” the reporter (or other candidate) into saying that his position is that the United States MUST allow Muslims into the country. Instead, Trump’s schtick will undoubtedly be just to double down and say that he was right and everyone sees it.

Because really, at the end of the day, what Cruz (who has also jumped on the bandwagon disagreeing with Trump), Rubio et al are saying is not that the United States MUST allow Muslims into the country, they are saying that any kind of blanket ban of the sort would need to meet a very high burden of proof as to its necessity, and that burden of proof has not been met yet. If you look at what the other Republican candidates have said, they have noted that we need to be much more aggressive with country of origin screening and tighten up our procedures, especially with people who are coming from known terrorist havens. I mean, I would not be opposed to blanket bans on certain countries or people who have traveled to certain countries in the last year. Muslim immigrants from India or Bali, for instance, shouldn’t arouse as much automatic suspicion as those from, say, Yemen.

Here’s what I do think: I do think that Trump’s remarks will help him cement his hold on the 22-28% of the GOP that he already has in his pocket. But the polling has shown that he pretty much already has those people in his pocket anyway. At some point as the contest moves on, Trump will need to prove that he can consolidate that 70-75% of the GOP electorate that currently does not favor him and which is moreover becoming hardened in their resolve not to vote for him under any circumstances.

Trump has to at some point pick up the current supporters of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson, and he’s demonstrated absolutely no ability to do that. In fact, when Carson began to crater, all of Carson’s supporters (who, if you believe the narrative, were committed to supporting a non-politician) who left went to either Rubio or Cruz. This statement on Trump’s part, and the inevitable double-down that is sure to follow, will probably mainly serve to drive the rest of the GOP field away from him even further.

Of course, there’s a real argument that Trump isn’t doing this to try to actually win the White House anyway, that he has some goal to build a Palin-esque cult of personality (or just to co-opt the pre-existing Palin cult of personality, which is largely what he’s done) for his own personal reasons, whether to increase his celebrity status or to throw a monkey wrench into 2016 by running third party after he loses the GOP nomination.

In either of those scenarios, Trump’s remarks really were brilliant; but if he wants to actually win the Presidency, they were not.