Americans and many around the world are feeling a lot less safe Monday morning than they did before the Paris attacks Friday. And perhaps nobody has been more willing and able to channel that fear and anxiety to his political benefit than Donald Trump.
In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday, the GOP front-runner said the United States needs to "watch and study" mosques and that he'd at least entertain the idea of closing some in America after the Paris attacks.
"Well, I would hate to do it, but it's something that you're going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred — the absolute hatred — is coming from these areas," he said.
In case he gets blamed for saying something incongruent with the 1st Amendment, Trump added that closing mosques is "something that many people — not me — it's something that many people are considering and that many people are going to do." But still, the message from Trump here is clear: The world is a dangerous place, and the only way to stay safe is to elect a president who can protect — and to a large degree, insulate — America from it.
By playing up many Americans' fears — about national security, about economic security, about the world in general — Trump is trying to convince Americans he's just the guy to do that. And while others are certainly paying attention to fears of refugees — some Republican governors are now closing their borders to them — Trump has always been willing to take things a step further. The mosques are just the latest example.
And Monday wasn't even the first time he had suggested as a leading presidential candidate that we should maybe close mosques to keep Americans safe. In an October interview with Fox Business, he said this, according to The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
Stuart Varney asked Trump whether, if elected president, would take similar action as the British government, which has revoked the passports of people of some and closed mosques.
“I would do that, absolutely; I think it’s great,” Trump responded. “If you go out, you go fight for ISIS, you can’t come back. Why can’t you do it? You can do it here.”
Varney asked, “Can you close a mosque? I mean, we do have religious freedom.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Trump said. “I mean, I haven’t heard about the closing of the mosque. It depends, if the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear, I don’t know. You’re going to have to certainly look at it.”
Going back to Sept. 11, 2001, mosques have become a symbol of fear among many on the right — a physical manifestation of the fact that there are people in the world who claim to use a religious ideology as justification to commit terror against Americans. Some even view them as sanctuaries where attacks could be plotted.
Trump knows this. In 2010, the real estate mogul offered to buy the the site of a planned Islamic community center near the fallen World Trade Center — with the condition that it be built five blocks away.
Talking about mosques in the wake of the Paris attacks is just the latest iteration of this kind of thing from Trump. He has often gone further on these matters than many other in his own party — and found a devoted base of people who eat it up.
In his June presidential launch, Trump hit a nerve on the right by saying many illegal Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals sent by the Mexican government.
Then, this summer, when a San Francisco woman was shot and killed, allegedly by an illegal immigrant, Trump talked about it repeatedly for a week. In fact, he's still talking about it: At a rally in Beaumont, Tex., on Saturday, Trump brought relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants on stage to share their stories.
When Obama announced that the U.S. will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, Trump said he'd kick them all out when he got to the White House. Since then, he's used language describing the millions of refugees from the Middle East less as if they were people fleeing terrorism and a civil war and more as if they are people traveling to the West to commit terrorism.
In September, he wondered aloud to New Hampshire voters whether the refugees might be a terrorist army in disguise: "They might be ISIS — I don't know." He's warned that accepting refugees "could be the greatest Trojan horse."
In his speeches, Trump also exponentially misstates the number of refugees the U.S. will accept, saying Obama has opened the U.S. to 250,000 instead of just 10,000. Here's what he said on Saturday, according to The Post's Jenna Johnson:
"And we all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all of that, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people — some of whom are going to have problems, big problems — is just insane," he said. "You have to be insane. Terrible."
Trump isn't backing off his penchant for hyperbole, and he feels no urgency to; he still stands among the top of the polls in the GOP race. And the people who attended his Texas rally the day after Paris sounded incredibly afraid. Bolstering Trump's case and perhaps making his argument more attractive was news over the weekend that one of the attackers in Paris might have entered France via the migrant trail.
Here are a few of their comments about Syrian refugees, from Johnson:
- "I do not want them here — we don’t know who they are, we don’t know their history, we don’t know if they’re terrorists just being funneled through these other countries."
- "I think they’re wolves in sheeps’ clothing."
- "I don’t mind taking refugees who are Christian, but the Muslims scare me.”
Trump's refugees-might-be-dangerous lines have picked up so much momentum that President Obama felt compelled to push back against them in a news conference at the G-20 summit Monday in Turkey. While not mentioning Trump by name, Obama said, "Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. ... Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values."
In Trump's "Morning Joe" interview Monday, host Mika Brzezinski asked Trump whether even suggesting closing mosques in America wouldn't contribute to anti-Muslim hatred that might be stewing after the Paris attacks.
"There's already hatred," he replied. "The hatred is incredible."
As is the fear back home. And Trump knows that.