First, the denials.
"I never said the term Muslim," Trump protested Monday night when Bill O'Reilly accusing him of calling for profiling of Muslims. "You did. You told me Muslims. I didn't say that. I am saying you're going to profile people that maybe look suspicious. I didn't say they were Muslims."
Top Trump spokesman Jason Miller also pointed to an inaccurate CNN chyron that said Trump had called for "racial profiling."
Sure enough, Trump never specifically called for "racial" profiling or "Muslim" profiling Monday. But his intent was clear both then and previously. Let's review his comments:
Here are the operative exchanges with O'Reilly (emphasis added):
O'REILLY: Now, another thing you said that was very controversial is that you want to profile. You want to profile Arab or Muslim men. How would that work?TRUMP: Well, we have no choice. Look, Israel does it. And Israel does it very successfully.O'REILLY: They do it at the airports. They do it at the airports.TRUMP: Well, they do it. They do it. And when they see somebody that they would like to talk to, that they would like to look at, that they would like to maybe open up their satchel and take a look inside, they do it. And they don't like to do it. I don't like to do it. But we have to be, you know, you have a woman who is 87 years old in a wheelchair from Sweden, and we have to look at her. We have to look at somebody else. It's ridiculous what's going on there....O'REILLY: When you say that you're going to profile certain Muslims, are you ever worried that the peaceful Muslims, and there are millions of American — you know, we don't have a big problem here with Muslims like they do in Europe and France. We don't have that big problem where they are, ghetto-wise, and they don't like their country and police can't go into the neighborhoods. You know the problem in Europe. We don't have that. Are you worried that sometimes when you say these things that peaceful Muslims will be the victim of backlash, the victim of people just lumping everybody into the terror jar?TRUMP: Well, first of all, I never said the term Muslim. You did. You told me Muslims. I didn't say that. I am saying, you're going to profile people that maybe look suspicious. I didn't say they were Muslims.O'REILLY: But how do they look suspicious? I mean, how?TRUMP: I don't know. These are experts. That's what they do. They profile. You go to Israel and they should study it, because Israel has done a phenomenal job at this. And they profile. And they are not happy about it, but they do it. And people aren't complaining about it. But we have to profile.O'REILLY: But it's almost 100 percent of the terrorism now is Muslim fanatics — almost 100 percent. You are not going to be profiling guys in leather jackets who, you know — with blue eyes at this point.TRUMP: Honestly whatever it is. But I'm not using the term Muslim. I am saying you're going to have to profile.
And here's Trump earlier in the day on "Fox and Friends":
We don’t want to do any profiling. If somebody looks like he has a massive bomb on his back, we won’t go up to that person and say 'I'm sorry,' because if he looks like he comes from that part of the world, we’re not allowed to profile. Give me a break.
First of all, O'Reilly asked Trump about profiling "Arab or Muslim men," and Trump responded: "We have no choice." He didn't disagree with the premise at all.
Second, Trump brought up the example of an 87-year-old in a wheelchair from Sweden. If he's not talking about racial profiling, it would seem a very odd decision to bring up the country perhaps most synonymous with being white. Why mention that at all if he's not talking about racial profiling?
Third, he talks about Israel as an example of a country that does profiling successfully. But what sets Israel apart isn't the fact that it profiles; it's that it does not rule out ethnic profiling.
And really, that gets at the heart of what Trump is talking about and why it has to be racial or ethnic profiling. Criminal profiling is a part of regular policing and anti-terrorism efforts; it already exists. As University of California-Berkeley professors Karin D. Martin and Jack Glaser wrote in 2012:
In defining racial profiling, it is important to distinguish it from two law enforcement practices that bear some resemblance to it, but which are legal and, if carried out correctly, nondiscriminatory. The first is “criminal profiling,” which can take two forms. One is the development of a constellation of characteristics that are predictive of a perpetrator of a particular crime. This can be thought of as profiling broadly defined. It is generally a more formal process than racial profiling and can result from either formal agency guidelines (as in the case of early Drug Enforcement Administration drug courier profiles starting in the 1970s) or informal stereotypes of criminals held by individual officers. This practice is also referred to as “behavioral profiling,” although the emphasis in behavioral profiling protocols is, as the name indicates, typically not on trait characteristics (e.g., age, gender), but rather on behaviors such as loitering, avoiding eye contact, and furtiveness (in the case of drug crimes), or purchasing one-way tickets with cash and then traveling without luggage (in the case of terrorism).
Where it gets into dicey territory is when you single someone out because of how they look. It's not clear what other kind of additional profiling Trump could be talking about if it's not racial — especially given that he acknowledges what he's talking about is controversial.
And lastly, Trump has even used the words "racial profiling" before. "But look, we have — whether it's racial profiling or politically correct, we'd better get smart," he said last month.
As with many Trump policies, he's almost purposefully vague about precisely what he's proposing — if he even does have a specific policy in mind. And he says just enough to make it sound like he's calling for a controversial policy that will appeal to the hard-line crowd, while also giving himself a modicum of plausible deniability to bash the media.
But the way in which Trump talks about profiling makes it clear what he's saying. CNN might have erred in putting "racial profiling" in quotes, but that's what he's talking about.