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A renewed cry in the GOP primary: Shut the door on Syrian refugees

Republican presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, addresses the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

In Orlando, where he joined most of the Republican presidential field at a three-day "Sunshine Summit," Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) got his biggest applause when he praised someone else's work. Jindal praised French President Francois Hollande for acting swiftly after Islamic terrorists massacred more than 100 people in Paris.

“He’s closed the borders,” said Jindal. “It is time to close our borders and keep our people safe from these radical, evil terrorists."

[French president calls Paris attacks ‘act of war’ by Islamic State]

The audience's loud approval was a sort of vindication for Jindal. Earlier this year, after a trip to London, he had been criticized for saying that Muslims had turned some European ghettos into “no-go zones." Even London's conservative mayor Boris Johnson denounced Jindal. Nearly a year later, he was joining a chorus of Republicans calling for a halt to refugees from Syria and tighter control over who can enter the United States.

As the GOP candidates learned more about the attacks, their statements evolved from rote "thoughts and prayers" for Paris to an overall policy of retrenchment. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is competing for some of the same social conservative voters as Jindal, released a four-point Paris response plan that started with "closing our borders" and continued with "an immediate moratorium on admission to those persons from countries where there is strong presence of ISIS or Al-Qaeda." In a later CNN interview, Huckabee brushed aside the idea that he was being extreme.

"Send us your weary — isn’t that what the United States is all about?” asked host Michael Smerconish.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t say send us your terrorists," Huckabee retorted. “For goodness sake, Michael!”

At the same time, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was telling Fox News that it would be "lunacy" to "bring tens of thousands of Syria Muslim refugees to America," as the Obama administration has planned.

"If you look at the early waves of refugees that have flooded into Europe," Cruz said, "one estimate was that 77 percent of those refugees were young men. That’s a very odd demographic for a refugee wave. The director of national intelligence here in America has said of those refugees in Europe, it is clear that a significant number of them may well be ISIS terrorists. It makes no sense whatsoever for us to be bringing in refugees who our intelligence cannot determine if they are terrorists here to kill us or not."

Fox's hosts did not challenge Cruz, but he had mischaracterized Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's thoughts about the refugees — and not for the first time. "I don’t, obviously, put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees," Clapper said in September, using an alternative name for the Islamic State. He doubted that every European country was ready to screen the refugees, but insisted that Americans "do have a pretty aggressive program for those coming to this country, for screening their backgrounds."

[Ted Cruz: Obama administration’s plan to allow tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from Syria into the U.S. is 'crazy.']

Yet in Orlando, it was the Cruz version of the facts that won out. In terms reminiscent of the 2014 panic over the Ebola virus, which led many politicians to demand a travel ban, Republican after Republican suggested that a blundering Obama administration could accidentally let terrorists across the border.

“I am angry that President Obama unilaterally decides that we’ll accept up to 100,000 Syrian refugees while his administration admits we cannot determine their ties to terrorism,” said former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has called for a more limited war against the Islamic State than his competitors, used his time at the Sunshine Summit to criticize Sen. Marco Rubio for not doing more to screen immigrants. In Paul's telling, Rubio cut a "secret deal" with Democrats to oppose Paul's Trust But Verify Act, a screening proposal designed as an amendment to the 2013 immigration bill.

[Rand Paul explains why he wants to stop ‘birthright citizenship’]

Then and now, Paul had wanted to restore a Bush-era screening program on foreign nationals coming to the United States from countries where radical groups had established themselves. Since then, Paul had criticized the idea of opening the country to refugees, suggesting that they were needed to rebuild their countries. The events in Paris gave that new resonance.

"I would not admit 200,000 people from Syria,” Paul told reporters after his speech. “I would say, 'Look, Saudi Arabia, you trade with us, you get great benefit from us, you've been throwing gasoline on this fire — Saudi Arabia, you need to accept some of these refugees.'"

Reporters followed up on that, pressing Paul on whether he'd go as far as Donald Trump, and promise to send refugees back to their war-torn countries.

“I wouldn’t invite them in the first place,” he said.