Provocation, vitriol is Donald Trump’s strategy, say experts

By Michael Mathes ,AFP

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s incendiary new provocation on Muslims plays on American fears about extremists and Syrian refugees, in what analysts said Tuesday was a calculated move by the U.S. opposition Republican Party’s presidential front-runner ahead of the first primary votes. The real estate mogul unveiled the most extreme proposal of his rabble-rousing campaign for 2016 on Monday when he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. Trump’s call, made in response to last week’s mass shooting in California by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalized, drew stern condemnation from both center-left Democratic Party figures and fellow conservatives, from Muslim leaders around the world and the White House.

But it was greeted with cheers from supporters at Trump’s rally in South Carolina, many of whom are hostile to President Barack Obama’s plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year, and to immigration in general. Trump’s Muslim ban proposal was not an off-the-cuff remark; it was laid out in a timely press release from his campaign. Analysts argued that he was taking calculated steps to rally support before the first nomination votes in Iowa on Feb. 1 and New Hampshire eight days later. “Strategically, what he’s doing makes sense,” said American University professor of government Jennifer Lawless. Trump has already galvanized core conservative voters fearful of undocumented workers taking U.S. jobs with his oft-repeated pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border. Lawless said it was unlikely Trump would be able to win the nomination “entirely on immigration.” “But if you can link immigration to terrorism and foreign policy and national security, then you have the potential to cast a much wider net.” The question, she said, is whether Trump has overstepped the bounds. ‘We’re at war’ Widely denounced as “fascist,” Trump’s comments were seen as so far-fetched in singling out the entire Muslim community that they drove the Philadelphia Daily News to compare him to Adolf Hitler. “The New Furor,” the paper blasted on its front page. “This is not conservatism,” the Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters. “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.” The billionaire doubled down on his us-versus-them proposal in interviews Tuesday. “We are at war, get it through your head,” he told CNN. “We need … a certain toughness in this country or we’ll end up like a lot of other places and we’re not going to have a country left.” Trump has extended his lead in the Republican presidential primary race amid controversy over his remarks on Muslims, with support from 27 percent of registered voters according to a Quinnipiac University survey last week. His Muslim ban call could pay short-term political dividends, but in the long run, experts believe his overall voter ceiling remains low. David Siegel, political science professor at Duke University, said the proposal in itself was unlikely to win over the undecided.