In September 2015, American intellectual Noam Chomsky said, “Trump may be comic relief” in Republican politics, “but it’s not that different from the mainstream… We should recognize that the other candidates are not that different.”
Not only are the other presidential candidates about as extreme as Trump, so are most conservative voters. Is there really anything Trump has said that doesn’t either have broad support among conservatives or has been espoused by more “mainstream” or “moderate” conservative politicians?
Some conservatives have been denouncing — rightly — Trump for months, carefully distancing themselves from him, while seemingly seeing no reason to distance themselves from candidates and ordinary conservatives who largely agree with him.
Let’s consider two controversial issues (involving the stereotyping and slander of certain groups) to determine just how “extreme” Trump really is compared to others. Sources for what Trump has advocated can be found in this Weekend Collective article.
The Demonization of Illegal Immigrants
Trump is notorious for practically foaming at the mouth over the need for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, stoking fears that illegal immigrants are dangerous. Is he alone?
In August 2015, surveys showed 70% of likely Republican voters agree a wall must be built. When broadened to include independent and Democratic voters, there is 51% support.
More importantly, Trump infamously stereotyped illegal immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. Polls from July show a massive 76% of likely Republican voters believe illegal immigration increases serious crime. 53% of all likely voters agree.
Trump promised to round up and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. In April, 62% of Americans believed the U.S. was not aggressive enough in deporting illegal immigrants.
Other former and current Republican candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz, also support a border wall. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum opposed a path to citizenship. Cruz agrees with Trump about mass deportation, and also speaks of illegal immigrants in the same breath as “criminals and terrorists” on his website, a statement that can be read several ways:
We have a serious immigration problem in America. The American people understand that we must reverse the policies that invite criminals and terrorists to defy the law, allow manipulation of our generous immigration system, and reward illegal immigrants for their actions.
This kind of rhetoric is nothing new (even though illegal immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born persons, and their place in the economy tends to create jobs, not kill them). Herman Cain said in 2011:
My fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology…. It will be a 20-foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!
Former Senator Fred Thompson, 2008:
Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women, and children around the world.
Glenn Beck in 2006:
[Mexico] has been overtaken by lawbreakers from the bottom to the top. And now, what you’re protesting for is to have lawbreakers come here.
Pat Buchanan, 2006:
They are not assimilated into America. Many Hispanics, as a matter of fact, you know what culture they are assimilating to? The rap culture, the crime culture, anti-cops, all the rest of it.
Rush Limbaugh, 2006:
Look at it from [Mexico’s] point of view. I mean if you had a renegade, potential criminal element that was poor and unwilling to work, and you had a chance to get rid of 500,000 every year, would you do it?
Besides Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall, his obsession with it, and the demonization that justifies it, is actually quite common, woven into the fabric of the Republican Party.
The Persecution of Muslims
In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Trump called for a ban on all Muslim immigration until the government can find a way to stop Islamic extremist terror.
In December 2015, 59% of Republican voters supported this idea. When people of all ideological persuasions included, 36% supported it. A second poll found the numbers slightly higher: 66% support among likely Republican voters, 46% among all likely voters. In June 2016, 76% of Republicans either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported the idea.
Ted Cruz, as The New York Times reported,
disavowed his proposal but pointedly declined to join in the scolding. “I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders,” Mr. Cruz said at the Capitol.
Cruz voted against a non-binding amendment that denounced such a ban, one of the very few Republicans to do so.
Mere weeks earlier, Cruz was leading the charge to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., calling this idea “lunacy”– and specifically referring to “Muslim” refugees:
President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America — it is nothing less than lunacy…
On the other hand Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.
He insisted Muslim refugees should be resettled in Muslim nations, to protect Americans, Europeans, and Israelis from terror. But Syrian Christians clearly cause Cruz no such concern: “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”
His website therefore states: “We should prioritize refugee status for religious minorities, especially Christians, Jews, and others being systematically tortured and murdered by radical Islamists in Iraq and Syria today.” After the attacks in Belgium, Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” a statement as disturbing as it is vague. A Cruz advisor, Frank Gaffney, has insisted Obama is a Muslim, that Muslims are taking over the government, and that Christie was a traitor for appointing a Muslim-American judge.
The millions of hungry, homeless Muslim refugees, also victims of ISIS and Syrian state violence, needn’t be a crucial concern.
The rest of the Republican candidates oppose all Syrian refugee immigration. 54% of Americans agreed. Christie said he wouldn’t let in “3 year old orphans.” Rubio didn’t like the idea that the U.S. was only at war with jihadists and not “at war with Islam” because “that would be like saying we weren’t at war with the Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party, but weren’t violent themselves,” equating nonviolent Muslims to nonviolent Nazis.
Which rules out a Muslim president. Considering Islam “inconsistent with the values and principles of America,” Ben Carson even took a stand against a future Muslim president, saying, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”
Trump also called for the surveillance of American mosques, the closing of some, a database of Muslim Americans, and/or special religion identification cards for Islamists. Carson likewise called for “monitoring” mosques that were “anti-American.” Mike Huckabee made it clear he didn’t have a problem with the FBI keeping an eye on things. Rubio said mosques–or “any place where radicals are being inspired” — must be spied on and shut down if deemed a threat by the State. Rick Santorum advocated immigration laws that would “have not the effect of banning all Muslims, but a lot of them.”
A November 2015 poll showed 32% of all likely U.S. voters supported government monitoring of Muslims. And among Republicans? “A slight plurality.”
It should be no surprise two-thirds of Republican voters support a ban on Muslim immigration (despite the fact Americans are twice as likely to die at the hands of a white, rightwing, non-Muslim terrorist — often a Christian, despite what Cruz says — than an Islamic extremist). Like rhetoric about undocumented people, conservative politicians and pundits were stereotyping Muslims long before Trump came on the scene.
As Vox noted:
Rep. Steven King (R-IA) once said, “They weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claimed, “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder. Complete the dang fence.” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) argued, “You have to be monitoring Muslim communities. That’s where the threat is going to come from.”
In 2015, Bill O’Reilly gave Islamic extremists a gift when he declared the U.S. was in a “holy war” with Islam, declaring that “the [American Christian] clergy must lead the way” and urging “all Christians, Jews, and secularists who love their country” to call the White House and “say enough.”
Mike Huckabee in 2013 equated Muslims in the Middle East to “animals,” warning Islam is
a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called holiest days… Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals—throwing rocks and burning cars.
But American Muslims are no better. In 2011, he declared Christians shouldn’t rent space in their churches to Muslims because Muslims say “that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated.”
Herman Cain, when asked in 2012 if he would feel “comfortable” having a Muslim on his cabinet as president, said, “No, I will not,” as “there is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”
Mitt Romney’s statement in summer 2010, opposing the construction of a new mosque two blocks from Ground Zero (in a former Burlington Coat Factory building), warned of the “potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda…”
Ann Coulter, after an Arabic secret service agent was racially profiled by airline personnel, wrote in 2002:
This man should not be allowed near the president with a loaded gun. At the least, he’s an immature nut. At worst, he’s a ticking time bomb, in a simmering rage at America’s supposed mistreatment of Muslims. These alleged civil liberties concerns have only one purpose: to give Muslims a cushion for another attack on America.
Trump is only continuing a common practice that serves to justify increasingly harsh anti-Muslim ideas.
Why Act Surprised Trump is Poised to Win?
It’s true that Trump is not exactly the same as the other Republican presidential candidates.
He unquestionably seems more narcissistic, self-absorbed. He is more crude toward women and disabled persons, brags about his wealth more than anyone else, and dares to question George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and the heroism of prisoners of war. He blurts out every thought that enters his very limited mind, lying incessantly, pretending he didn’t say something he did or flip-flopping on important issues like healthcare and gun control. He also doesn’t play up his Christianity to attract religious voters (Sarah Palin of all people encouraged voters not to look for the most “Christian-y, godliest” candidate after she endorsed him). Other candidates haven’t inspired Americans to commit acts of violence against innocent people while chanting candidate names.
With these things in mind, it makes sense some conservatives would denounce Trump as dangerous. But why is anyone surprised he is doing so well in the early contests? There is broad support for his policies among the Republican base. Most of the base, the other candidates, and conservative media think the same way he does (and not just about these two issues; Chomsky condemned their common willingness to jump into a war with Iran). Trump’s crassness, narcissism, and flip-flopping simply isn’t enough to dislodge the conservatives who respond well to his fear mongering and xenophobia.
Those turned off by Trump will support candidates that are perhaps better. These candidates will be more vocal about their Christian faith, yet support the same kinds of policies as Trump. They will be less self-absorbed and loudmouthed, yet will do the same. They will be consistent, which will be a relief, but consistent about disturbing ideas.
No, other candidates (and ordinary conservatives who agree with harsh policies) are not identical to Trump. But they are, as Chomsky said, “not that different.”
If you are a Republican voter who opposes Trump, well done. To play on language Ben Carson used when discussing possible terrorists among Syrian refugees, you have put down a rabid wolf.
But what about the rabid dogs?