By Ben Kamisar
Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump bucks military on waterboarding Lynch pressured to recuse herself after Clinton tarmac meeting Trump: 'I’m just flabbergasted’ by Clinton-Lynch meet MORE called Monday for a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States, further stoking an incendiary debate spurred by recent mass shootings carried out by terrorists in Paris and Southern California.
Asked by The Hill whether that would include American Muslims currently abroad, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks replied over email: “Mr. Trump says, ‘everyone.’ ”
During a Tuesday morning interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," however, Trump clarified that American Muslims would still be able to travel freely under his plan.
Describing Trump’s proposal as “unhinged,” “fascist” and “downright dangerous,” Trump’s rivals sought to characterize it as further evidence the bombastic real estate mogul is unfit to lead the country.
“Again, this is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said in an interview. “We do not need to endorse that type of activity, nor should we.”
Yet Trump maintains that a significant number of Muslims harbor a “hatred” toward America, citing a poll by the Center for Security Policy, a think-tank that has criticized the role of Muslims in America.
That survey showed that one-quarter of Muslims living in America polled “agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as part of the global jihad” and that a majority think that Muslims in America should be allowed to answer to Shariah law.
“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” Trump said.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
The remarks are a departure from Trump’s previous statements about Muslims.
“I love Muslims. I think they’re great people,” Trump said during a September campaign stop in Iowa, according to The Huffington Post.
Trump also indicated he would consider having a Muslim in his Cabinet or as his running mate.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “No problem with that.”
An estimated 100,000 Muslims immigrated to the United States in 2012, a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found.
Trump continues to hold a hold a lead atop the national GOP presidential polls, but might have been bumped by Cruz in Iowa. Monmouth released a poll Monday showing Cruz ahead of Trump by 5 points, though a CNN poll hours later showed Trump ahead of Cruz by 13 points there.
Trump’s comments come less than a week after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., killed 14 people. The alleged shooters were both Muslim, and the federal government is investigating whether the attack was tied to terrorism.
The move also follows an Oval Office address President Obama gave Sunday night appealing for tolerance in light of the California shooting.
“It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL,” Obama said.
“Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.”
On Monday, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes called Trump’s comments “totally contrary to our values as Americans,” during a CNN interview, contending the rhetoric plays right into the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by “sending a message” that America is at war with Islam.
“Embracing that frame … is going to make it very difficult to partner with Muslim communities here in the United States and around the world to prevent the scourge of radicalization,” he said.
To be sure, some of Trump’s GOP rivals have called to restrict refugees from majority Muslim countries in light of concerns about terror attacks.
Cruz, for instance, proposed a bill to bar refugees from countries with “territory substantially controlled by a foreign terrorist organization” with an exception carved out for those facing genocide. While he doesn’t specifically exempt Christian refugees from those countries, he’s said repeatedly that Christian refugees don’t pose a threat and should be welcomed into America.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed a similar bill to bar refugees from countries with “significant jihadist movements.”
But none has gone so far as to call for an outright ban, and the rest of the field wasted no time in lambasting Trump’s plan.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Trump “unhinged” in a tweet, arguing that his “ ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”
Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), tweeted that Trump “has gone from making absurd comments to being downright dangerous with his bombastic rhetoric.”
Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted, “The U.S. is a strong nation when we stand together. We are weak when we allow racism and xenophobia to divide us.”
Hillary Clinton, who leads all polling in the race for the Democratic nomination, also did not mince words in her rebuke of Trump’s plan.
“This is reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive,” she tweeted. “@RealDonaldTrump, you don’t get it. This makes us less safe.”
Lisa Hagen contributed.
Updated at 9:23 a.m. Tuesday.