Opinion writer

The GOP presidential candidates are clambering over one another to respond to the Paris terrorist attacks by talking tough about Muslim refugees from Syria or otherwise demagoguing about Muslims in America. Nearly two dozen Republican governors (and one Democrat) have tried to declare their states closed to Syrian migrants. That includes three Republican governors who are running for president. A lot more along these lines may be on the way.

A major new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests these GOP lawmakers and candidates may be reading the mood of the overall public — and GOP voters in particular — with dispiriting accuracy.

The poll finds that Americans overall agree by 56-41 that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and the American way of life. Meanwhile, Americans are almost perfectly split on the value of immigration: 47 percent say immigrants strengthen the country with hard work and talent, while a depressingly high 46 percent say they are a burden on the U.S. because they take jobs, housing and health care. The CEO of PRRI tells religion writer Sarah Posner that the findings show an “increased xenophobic streak” among the American public overall.

Here are some of the more specific findings:

— Republicans say in far greater numbers than Americans overall that immigrants burden the country rather than strengthening it: they support this view by 66-26.

— According to numbers given to Posner by PRRI, 80 percent of Trump supporters see immigrants as a burden.

— Republicans and certain voter groups aligned with the GOP are much more pessimistic about American decline than Americans overall. While Americans are split on whether America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us, Republicans say by 58-41 that they are behind us. Tea Partyers say this by 65-33. And 60 percent of white evangelicals — a key voting bloc in GOP primaries — agree with this.

All of this lends more evidence to a thesis already suggested by many analysts: that the GOP coalition is increasingly drawn from the “groups most un­settled by demo­graph­ic and cul­tur­al change,” as Ron Brownstein has put it. These are the voters that may be fueling the Trump phenomenon, and now, it’s possible that the Paris attacks could encourage more of the GOP candidates to try to appeal to them with similar rhetoric. We’re already seeing Ted Cruz launch spirited new efforts along these lines, as you’ll see below.

As it happens, some Republican strategists don’t think this is a good idea, as the Post reports today:

Republican strategists are divided over the lasting consequences of the refu­gee issue, with some expecting grass-roots voters to rally to the party’s increasingly aggressive tone and turn out in droves in the upcoming primary contests. Others are nervous about damaging the party’s brand with controversial comments, such as Donald Trump’s remark Monday that he would consider shutting down some mosques and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s call to “wake up and smell the falafel.”

“It’s very worrisome,” said Ari Fleischer, a former George W. Bush adviser who has worked with the Republican National Committee on expanding the GOP’s reach. “We must always make the distinction between law-abiding Muslims, of which there are many, and radical Islamists who want to do us great harm.”

Of course, this new PRRI poll shows a rise in xenophobic sentiment among Americans overall, not just among Republicans. And that poll was taken before the Paris attacks, which means this sentiment may only grow more pronounced. So who knows: maybe Republicans can pursue this course without paying any serious political price for it in a general election.

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* CRUZ TO INTRODUCE BILL BANNING MUSLIM REFUGEES: Ted Cruz has announced that he is drafting legislation that will ban the entry of any more Muslim Syrian refugees into the United States. As Cruz tells CNN:

“What Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees….I have to say particularly in light of what happened in Paris, that’s nothing short of lunacy.”

As noted here yesterday, Trump has already suggested we may have to close mosques, and the question is whether the GOP candidates keep moving to the right to keep pace. Now Cruz may be setting a new standard for them to meet, too.

 * GOVERNORS CLOSE DOOR ON MUSLIM MIGRANTS: The number of governors who have tried to refuse Muslim Syrian refugees has risen to 23 and counting. Only one of them — Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire — is a Democrat.

All three GOP governors who are running for president — Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — have joined in the fun.

* REPUBLICANS ARE CERTAIN PARIS ATTACKS WILL BENEFIT THEM: The Hill reports that GOP strategists are certain, absolutely certain, that the Paris attacks will be a big political boon for them, because they will focus the public on the administration’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) foreign policy record:

When it comes to ISIS in general, and the Paris attacks in particular, some Republican critics suggest Clinton is boxed in, stuck between the imperative of appearing tough enough for the electorate at large while also trying to appeal to conflict-averse liberal Democrats who could react badly to any perceived Clinton “betrayal” of Obama.

Of course, the GOP candidates also have to advance their foreign policy visions, and those, too, will be subject to the public’s judgment. But remember: Republicans always are presumed to have the advantage in this area, regardless of the specifics of any particular dispute.

* RUBIO OPENS NEW FRONT ON GOP RIVALS: Marco Rubio is now attacking Ted Cruz and Rand Paul for supporting recently-passed bipartisan reforms to NSA surveillance:

“At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to be president, Senator Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence program,” Mr., Rubio told a collection of corporate executives at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting. “Weakening our intelligence-gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable.”

This appears to be a reference to the U.S.A. Freedom Act. Rubio seems to be calculating that GOP voters care more about the terror threat than about Big Government surveillance. Something tells me Cruz will relish this argument.

 * THE PLUM LINE IS ON FACEBOOK!!! Have we mentioned that this blog now has a Facebook page? You can get most of our posts there, too. Come on over and “like” us.

* TRUMP AND CARSON KEEP ON SURGING: A new University of Massachusetts Amherst poll shows Donald Trump and Ben Carson dominating: Trump has 32 percent of likely GOP voters nationally; Carson has 22 percent; Ted Cruz has 13; and Marco Rubio has nine percent.

That gives over 50 percent to the outsider/entertainer candidates. Republicans clearly are coming to grips with the possibility that one could win either Iowa or New Hampshire, after which things could get truly crazy.

 * REPUBLICANS STILL STRUGGLING WITH OBAMACARE REPEAL: Politico brings us the latest: GOP leaders are considering dropping the language defunding Planned Parenthood from their latest bill to repeal Obamacare in order to win over moderate Republican Senators who are wary of voting to defund the group. With some conservatives balking because the bill doesn’t go far enough in destroying Obamacare, the current version might not even get 51 votes it needs to pass under the “reconciliation” procedure.

Jeez. If the GOP majority can’t even manage to force Obama to veto an Obamacare repeal bill, what good are they?