For months pundits, including myself, have been predicting that Donald Trump lacks a serious, sustained path to the presidency. I still doubt he can win the Republican nomination and am totally convinced that if he became the general election candidate, the November elections would be a bloodbath for the Republican Party.
Others argue that Trump’s anti-immigration, xenophobic, outsider message combined with his celebrity status will be enough to squeak through this crowded field of candidates and secure the nomination.
But this is not just a political parlor game anymore. It is not enough to argue, as Robert Schlesinger did here, that Trump too shall pass or, as Nate Silver does at FiveThirtyEight, that Trump’s support now constitutes only about 6-8 percent of the electorate and that in the last two elections in Iowa and New Hampshire close to half of Republicans made up their minds during the last week before the caucus and primary. Polls will change he says, voters will pay more attention as we approach February and Trump is likely to fade.
More important than Trump’s ultimate fate is his impact on the American psyche, and the world’s.
The real question is the influence that Trump is having on the electorate – with other Republican candidates doing their best to imitate his bluster and outrageousness. From his early criticism of Arizona Sen. John McCain for being a captured war hero, to his repeated demonizing of immigrants as rapists, to his totally false claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were cheering 9/11, Trump does not let up. He is clear about his desire to surveil and even close mosques, to create “watch lists” of Muslims, tobring back waterboarding and more.
The other candidates follow suit: Ben Carson rejects electing a Muslim as president, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush believe, as The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus writes, “Syrian Christians should be admitted in preference to Muslims.”
Imagine, if you will, a good portion of the over 1.6 billion Muslims (23.4 percent of the world’s population) watching television as this parade of Republican candidates bash them, treat them as pariahs, misrepresent their goals and aspirations and place in the world. And imagine, further, that this becomes their image of America, of what we stand for, of who we are. What are they to do, how do they respond, how are they to act towards us?
Our fear of the terrorists and outrageous ad hoc rhetoric does nothing but create more terrorists. Just as the misguided war in Iraq created more terrorists than it killed what we are facing today in this campaign for president is harming our goals of peace and stability.
It is important to take on the terrorists, to root them out, to build a large and meaningful world coalition against them. But the approach of Donald Trump and others undermines this goal and makes it much more difficult to win the hearts and minds as well as win the battlefield.
The sooner we put an end to the irresponsibility of Trump and the others in this Republican field the better. Then, we can get on with solving the problem of radical jihad in the world.