The polls are in, and now we know for sure that Donald Trump didn’t go too far when calling for a moratorium on all Muslims entering the country.
Not unless you’re among those who think that the very idea of an un-American, unenforceable ban is bad for the country, not to mention the Republican Party.
But the polls, the polls …
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Donald, it’s that, despite what Nate Silver might have taught us, polls are everything.
And in the latest New York Times/CBS News version, we learn two things: More Americans are worried about a terrorist attack than at any time since 9/11. And that that is good news for the Donald, whose campaign is based almost entirely on either anger or fear.
In a previous poll – before Paris, before San Bernardino — only four percent listed terrorism as their major concern. Now, 19 percent do. And you thought Trump had finally gotten himself into real trouble. He was already on the anti-Muslim bandwagon, a natural successor to his cart-Mexican-immigrants/rapists-to-the-other-side-of-the-Trump-sized-wall bandwagon. Now he’s out there way in front, saying no more Muslims coming to America until we get this whole terrorist thing fixed. Otherwise, he says, there will be more World Trade Centers. And presumably – in TrumpWorld – more already-in-New Jersey Muslims celebrating.
The terrorist concern is hardly surprising. The math may suggest that you’re unlikely to ever be anywhere near a terrorist incident, but it’s hardly unreasonable to worry that someone will be, particularly if the partly homegrown terrorism in San Bernardino represents anything more than one disturbed couple with a giant arsenal.
But what is surprising – and more than unreasonable – is that 70 percent of Republicans say they believe Trump is suited to handle the situation. I’m serious. You have to ask yourself whether this is a Trump problem or a Republican problem. Just do the Google on what percentage of Republicans still think Obama is a Muslim, and that might help with the answer.
And then there’s this: In what world does a phony bid to ban all Muslims at the border – as if would-be terrorists would say, man, you got me, I’m as Muslim as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — show strength? And yet, as the would-be GOP strongman, Trump leads the Republican primary poll with 35 percent, more than double his nearest competitor. Remember when the predictions were that Trump would inevitably fade? Is the inevitability clock still running?
What’s also unsurprising — but doubly frightening to the Republican establishment – is that Ted Cruz is running second to Trump, with 16 percent. Yes, that Ted Cruz — the same Ted Cruz who, in jumping from the middle of the pack, has said that he opposed allowing Muslim refugees from Syria, but would happily welcome Syrian Christians.
And though Cruz does say he disagrees with Trump’s all-purpose moratorium — and, according to The Times, privately says he wonders about Trump’s judgment — he is on record saying it is time to “carpet-bomb” ISIS and apparently whoever else might be in the way and to see, in the process, whether we can make “the sand glow in the dark.” You gotta like the imagery, right?
The Times poll was conducted, in the main, before Trump’s border-patrol gambit. But if you were still thinking Trump might have gone overboard, there’s an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that was taken after Trump announced his plan and shows Republicans backing the policy by a 42-36 margin (although overall, it’s 57-25 against, meaning you can breathe out).
I’ll confess I don’t necessarily trust these polls. It’s not as if everyone being polled on the Republican side has thought through the ramifications of Trump-speak — both the un-American aspect and the obvious point that the anti-Muslim rhetoric would only assist ISIS recruiting. And if history is any guide, early polls – and mid-December is apparently on the outer edge of early — aren’t any guide at all. Which isn’t to say that Republican leaders aren’t in full panic that Trump might actually win, and, if he doesn’t, that he might run as an independent. If either happens, they’re sunk.
And we are in a tricky place just now. All at once, the culture wars are blazing on so many fronts — religion, guns, abortion, terrorism — and Trump is the leading voice for one of our major parties. But if it’s a tricky time, it’s also a perfect time for a Republican debate, and the next one happens to be this coming Tuesday. It will have been more than a month since the last debate, and it seems as if the whole world has changed in the meantime, if you don’t count the fact that Trump was leading in the polls then and he’s leading now.
The war against ISIS and terrorism at home will be at the center of the debate, as will, of course, Trump and his plan. It’s pretty clear where most Republican leaders stand, but that would hardly worry Trump. Paul Ryan has ripped the ban. Even Dick Cheney has ripped it. Most of the people set to share the stage with Trump have criticized it. It’s almost, as the Donald might say, as if they’d never seen a poll.