Following the attack in San Bernardino, California which was orchestrated by a married couple who are now identified as “radicalized Islamists” and killed fourteen people, Donald Trump is once again sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the US until “we are able to understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.” Trump has defended his position by drawing a comparison between his proposal and that of President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, who classified the Japanese, Germans and Italians living in the United States as “enemy aliens”. Trump’s argument is that just as the US was at war with Japan, Germany and Italy during World War II, we are now at war with radical Islamic terrorism and need to deploy appropriate strategy and tactics to identify, contain and eradicate the problem.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s statement unleashed a backlash in negative commentary from both the left and the right for advocating a position which has been described as unconstitutional and xenophobic. Despite this perceived controversy, Trump continues to lead in the polls. A recent Fox News Poll reveals that Trump was at 30% before the “Muslim-ban” comments but jumped to 38% after the comments. Furthermore, according to a recently released USA Today/Suffolk University Poll, 68% of Trump supporters would vote for Trump if he ran as an Independent.
While Trump has since nuanced his earlier statement by saying that the ban does not apply to Muslim Americans, the criticism of his stance has consumed both sides of the political spectrum. 2016 Democrat presidential candidate front-runner Hillary Clinton has stated, “Tell Donald Trump. Hate is not an American Value.” The White House Press Secretary has also come out very strongly against the real estate magnate saying that Trump’s statement “disqualifies him from serving as President”.
Trump’s comments have also been lambasted by his fellow Republican candidates for the White House and the party leadership. Recently appointed Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) stated that Trump’s comments do not reflect who we “are as a party” and “violate the Constitution.” “This is not conservatism,” Ryan stated. “Some of our best and biggest allies in this struggle and fight against radical Islam terror are Muslims.” The House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, equally denounced Trump’s statements as being inconsistent with American values. Under Trump’s policy, allies such as King Abdullah of Jordan and President Ghani of Afghanistan would not be allowed entry to The United States. Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) tweeted “I disagree with Donald Trump’s latest proposal. His habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.”
Even Ted Cruz, who has avoided directly criticizing Trump now appears ready to throw the first punch. An audio of Cruz speaking at private fundraiser specifically articulated the Texas Senator’s strategy for avoiding criticism of Trump and fellow GOP Candidate Dr. Ben Carson, “My approach, much to the frustration of media, is to bear hug both of them and smother them with love,” Cruz said. “I believe that gravity will bring both of those candidates down. I think the lion share of their supporters will come to us.”
However, this is not the first time that Trump has overcome a controversial statement. We saw this with his comments about John McCain, Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina. The list goes on and on. Once again, the tea leaves are indicating that Trump is going to triumph over this latest brouhaha as well. After all. it has been close to a week since Trump made the initial ban all Muslims from US entry comment, yet the media and politicians are still commenting on this “radical proposal”. Trump and his proposal are the talk of every talk show and at the top of the google search engine hierarchy. Not only does Trump continue to receive a tremendous amount of free publicity for the shocking, memorable sound bite, but he also receives a platform to explain “what he meant” over and over again. And while this is all happening, Trump benefits from having the opportunity to rein in and reshape his initial proposal. Talk about an elaborate test kitchen. Market research on steroids.
Perhaps Trump’s seemingly off the cuff, blunt, bold statements are all part and parcel of a carefully choreographed teaser communication strategy. In other words, he is deliberately making statements which verge on hyperbole, which elicit visceral reactions and often also are the “thought bubbles” that others are afraid to say out loud. It is an incredible playbook which starts with throwing out a dramatic statement which quickly gets picked up by every media outlet, dominates the airwaves for days and forces a response from every single political candidate. And, every single time, just when we think that Donald Trump has gone too far, that this latest comment will be his swan song, he bounces back. He remains the phoenix always rising from the ashes. And, that resiliency is yet another reason for his supporters to believe him when he says that he is going to “make America great again”.