When Donald Trump unveiled his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States at a campaign event in South Carolina on Monday night, he was greeted with a 24-second standing ovation. Here's what that looked and sounded like:
Trump cited that response Tuesday morning when defending his position on Muslim immigration during an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. Here's the exchange:
TRUMP: I spoke before an audience last night, of a massive audience last night. Your people were there. Thousands of people inside, thousands of people outside. They couldn't even get in. And got standing ovations as soon as this was mentioned. Standing ovations.
CUOMO: Of course you did, Mr. Trump. These are your people.
TRUMP: Well, I mean, I have standing ovations from very smart people. These are intelligent people, these are great citizens. These are people that are concerned about our country. Until our country's representatives can figure it out.
This is the same argument that Trump used to defend himself from fact-checkers who insisted his claims about seeing Muslims in New Jersey celebrating when the Twin Towers collapsed were totally false. Under pressure from "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd to say where, exactly, he has seen those celebrations, Trump offered this: "I saw clips. And so did many other people. And many people saw it in person. I've had hundreds of phone calls to the Trump Organization saying, 'We saw it. It was dancing in the streets.'"
"Many other people." "Hundreds of phone calls."
Remember that, at heart, Trump is a salesman. In his mind, if people applaud, it means they like something. And, if they like something, then he must be doing something right. The problem with that logic is that commerce and politics are not the same thing.
Trump's carefully calibrated pitches to further the Trump business brand are reliant on giving people what they want. The more you give them what they want, the better your business does.
In politics, giving people what they want can have very dangerous repercussions. Trump's plan to ban all Muslim immigration is not only (a) unconstitutional but also (b) something that is already having a major negative impact on how the United States is perceived by the Muslim world.
That people who have traveled to an event to hear Trump speak applaud when he says, well, anything, is the opposite of a surprise. No one is disputing that Trump has built a cohort of like-minded supporters in his campaign. What I would dispute is that those people clapping when Trump mentioned his ban on Muslim immigration tell us anything more than that Trump has an ardent following in a certain corner of the Republican Party.
Trump conflates applause from his admirers with a sense that he has tapped into some greater truth that other politicians are afraid to say for fear of being shouted down by the political correctness police. He hasn't. He's simply giving his people what they want, which, in politics, is both the easiest and the most dangerous thing you can do.
Trump isn't selling a product. He's running to be the single most powerful person in the United States and, arguably, the world. His emphasis on how crowds react to him suggests he doesn't understand the difference between the two.