On September 17, at a political rally in New Hampshire, Donald Trump took a question from a man who said we had a problem with Muslims. He said that the President was a Muslim and that Muslims had camps where they were learning how to kill us. (In recent polls, about 40-60% of Republicans say they believe President Obama is a Muslim.) The questioner wanted to know what Trump intended to do about this problem. Trump replied that he was going to look into stuff like that. During the question one could watch the faces of the folks in the crowd behind the podium. Some had neutral expressions but some were clearly disturbed, even slack-jawed. Trump showed no particular emotion other than to laugh that he was getting such a question so early in the rally and possibly uttering an affirmative grunt when the questioner said the President was a Muslim.
Here are some suggestions for responses that Mr. Trump could have made but did not. He could have corrected the questioner’s assertion that the President is a Muslim. In spite of Republican beliefs, there is no evidence for this. The President is a Christian. His political opponents have even criticized him for belonging to a church headed by a pastor who was frequently critical of the way the United States has treated blacks. Mr. Trump could have further noted that Article VI, paragraph 3, of the Constitution reads, “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This clearly means that the President’s religion, or lack of it, by the way, is totally irrelevant to running for or serving in his office. As to the camps where the Muslims are learning how to kill us, has their existence sprung from the same fertile minds who imagined that the recent military exercises (Jade Helm, July, 2015) in Texas were really an invasion by Obama to confiscate guns and imprison his political opponents? Texans survived and some of the “invading” soldiers were seen water skiing after the exercise ended.
Mr. Trump could have done all of these things but he did none of them. He is between a rock and a hard place with his base of support. He sprang to political prominence in 2010-2011 by joining the “birthers,” a loosely-knit group of conspiracy theorists who claim that President Obama was not entitled to be President because he was born in Kenya. Forged birth certificates to that effect were circulated. According to Mr. Trump, he was instrumental in forcing the President to release his long form birth certificate that confirmed that he had been born in Hawaii. All rational people, even Republican opponents, already knew this. Even after seeing the President’s birth certificate, Mr. Trump has never said that he now believes that the President is a natural-born American.
Trump is now reaping what he has sown. His supporters range from the angry and disaffected to the ignorant and bigoted. Not all of the angry and disaffected are ignorant bigots but this latter group represents a sufficiently-sized voting bloc that many, if not most of the current Republican Presidential Candidates, believe that they must be appeased. Senator Lindsay Graham, R. South Carolina, who is polling at about 1%, fearlessly condemned Mr. Trump’s failure to slap the bigoted questioner down. Chris Christie said he would correct the questioner. Dr. Ben Carson said he probably would correct the questioner. We’ll see how many of the other candidates do the same. Ted Cruz, who hopes to inherit Trump’s supporters when Trump self-destructs, refused to say what he would have done.
Mr. Trump cannot change his position. These are the supporters he cultivated. Without them, he will sink in the polls into the gaggle of also-rans: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, etc. Trump says he is a Presbyterian Christian. He might read Proverbs 11: 29, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind and the fool shall be servant to the wise.” Mr. Trump was wise enough to recognize a potential base of support among the fools that he could stir up to his advantage. Now he is served by them but he must, in turn, serve them, or all that will remain to him will be the wind.