Over the past 24 hours, almost half of the nation's governors — all but one of them Republicans — have said they plan to refuse to allow Syrian immigrants into their states in the wake of the Paris attacks carried out by the Islamic State (no matter that they can't really do that). Ted Cruz, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has announced plans to introduce legislation in the Senate that would bar all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering America.
That stance has been greeted with widespread ridicule and disgust by Democrats who insist that keeping people out of the U.S. is anathema to the founding principles of the country. “That’s shameful,” President Obama said in a speech addressing the Paris attacks on Monday. “That’s not American. It’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Think what you will, but one thing is clear: The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.
The Pew Research Center did an in-depth poll looking into Americans' view on Islamic extremism in the the fall of 2014 — and its findings suggest that politicians like Cruz have virtually nothing to lose in this fight over how best to respond to ISIS's latest act of violence.
More than 7 in 10 Republican voters said they were "very concerned" about the rise of Islamic extremism in the United States. That's 25 percentage points higher than Democrats (46 percent) who said the same and 21 percentage points higher than independents who expressed great concern about Islamic extremism in America.
That marked concern with the threat of Islamic extremism is accentuated by a deep lack of confidence among Republicans with the Obama administration's ability to handle what they perceive to be a growing threat. Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans believe that the government is not doing well at all in reducing the threat of terrorism, as compared to just 26 percent of Democrats who say the same. Republicans also were (and are) much more likely to say that the government's counterterrorism policies aren't doing enough to keep the country safe (64 percent) than they are to say that the policies are restricting civil liberties (24 percent).
It's safe to say that in the intervening year — particularly in the wake of the Paris attacks that have been plastered all over every TV screen and newspaper homepage for the last 96 hours straight — Republican voters' views on national security broadly and the Islamic State in particular have not waned and are very likely to have grown more strident.
Given that, the positions of these Republicans governors, as well as Cruz and several other people running for president, amount to a political layup. Calling for a ban on Muslim refugees from Syria hits two sweet spots: 1) The concerns among the Republican electorate about the threat posed by Islamic extremists and 2) The unhappiness among GOPers for how Obama has handled terrorism broadly.
The message these Republicans are sending is simple: Obama has not acted. We will.
"A big part of the reason we are not effectively combating radical Islamic terrorism indeed as the president readily acknowledged he has no strategy to do so, is because he will not acknowledge the enemy we are fighting," Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday. "And so President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s proposal to bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America is nothing short of lunacy."
Like it or not, that is a message virtually certain to win Cruz voters — or at least nodding heads — within the Republican primary electorate he is trying to convince to be for him. The politics of such messaging in a general election is far more dicey. It open up Cruz as well as the Republican party as a whole to allegations of xenophobia not to mention potentially furthering the idea that the GOP remains unfriendly to immigrants of all sorts -- a belief that is already hugely problematic for Republicans with the broader electorate.
That, of course, is a Republican worry for another day. For now, expect more rhetoric of the sort coming from Cruz and his brethren, not less.