The Trump controversy du jour -- not that it'll matter in a few days, because that's how this works -- pertains to a series of answers he gave in response to inquiries about whether he supports a special registry for all Muslims living in the United States. A Yahoo News reporter first raised the odd question, to which Trump responded with a generic 'we have to look at all options' answer. Not an endorsement, but not a rejection of the (terrible) premise. NBC News followed up several times, resulting in a weird exchange wherein Trump seemed to be missing the point of the questions, mostly answering about the border wall. But in response to a drill-down attempt on whether Muslims would be required to register for this hypothetical database, Trump said, "they have to." Here's the transcript:
MSNBC Reporter: Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?
Donald Trump: There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems. And today you can do it. But right now we have to have a border, we have to have strength, we have to have a wall, and we cannot let what’s happening in this country happen any longer.
Reporter: But that’s something your White House would want to implement?
Trump: Oh, I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.
Reporter: What do you think the effect of that – how would that work?
Trump: It would stop people from coming in illegally. We have to stop people from coming in to our country illegally.
Reporter: But specifically, how do you actually get them registered into a database?
Trump: It would be just good management. What you have to do is good management procedures. And we can do that. (to someone else) That’s nice.
Reporter: Do you go to mosques and sign people up?
Trump: Different places. You sign ‘em up at different, but it’s all about management. Our country has no management.
Reporter: Would they have to legally be in this database, would they be–
Trump: They have to – they have to be. Let me just tell you: People can come to the country, but they have to come legally. Thank you very much.
Keep in mind that Trump said yesterday that he'd implement national security measures that were "frankly unthinkable a year ago." When a separate NBC News reporter asked him how the Muslim database would differ from the Nazis registering Jews, Trump replied, "Why don’t you tell me?" Trump defenders argue that Trump and the reporters were talking past each other; the candidate thought he was answering about border security and Muslim refugees, while the journalists were actually asking about a national registry for all Muslims. This is the most charitable interpretation of Trump's comments -- that he was unaware of the major controversy he'd sparked, and that he wasn't really listening to the questions asked of him. Here's the thing, though: The nanosecond Trump sees a poll that he likes, or a piece of television commentary that he doesn't, he lets everyone know about it instantly. Indeed, he criticized Mary Katharine Ham on Twitter this morning after she appeared on Fox News to discuss this very controversy. Rather than addressing the premise of the segment ("Trump says he would require Muslim Americans to register in database"), he questioned her intelligence about border issues, a non-sequitur. A campaign spokesperson appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Co several hours later and sent mixed messages about what Trump's actual position on the registry is:
Hours later, we heard from the man himself. How useful is this clarification?
I didn't suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2015
Okay, so someone else first suggested the database. That's correct. But he declined to shoot down the unconstitutional scheme when it was presented to him, then subsequently appeared to affirmatively endorse it. His supporters seem torn between "he doesn't support this idea, so this is a media smear!" and "he is right to call for a Muslim registry!" Intentionally or otherwise, the tweet above could satisfy both camps, but it doesn't tell us what his stance is. Would President Trump support a compulsory registry for all Muslims inside the United States, yes or no? That's a simple question, yet the answers we've gotten so far from Team Trump range from, "hey, we didn't bring this up," to "everything's on the table." In other words, the Trump campaign is well aware that the media has been reporting for hours on end that he's in favor of an civil liberties-crushing Orwellian project, and they haven't definitively corrected the record -- assuming that his real opinion has been distorted, that is. Is this ambiguity attributable to incompetence, or to a craven recognition that fence-sitting will work well with his base (knowing full well that the media will move on to the next flare-up soon enough anyway)? Regardless, Sen. Ted Cruz, who's been exceedingly hesitant to criticize Trump on any front, swatted down the 'Muslim database' idea that Trump may or may not support. After taking great pains to note that he's "a fan" of The Donald, Cruz said this:
“I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens,” Cruz continued. “The First Amendment protects religious liberty, I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty.”
Good answer, and one that's not likely to ignite the "war" Trump is promising if he starts to view the Texan as a threat. And Cruz's response is certainly better than this one:
Carson on Trump: "Hopefully we already have a database on everybody in this country," but shouldn't treat races/religions differently.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 20, 2015
As others have pointed out, anyone who has a Social Security card or is on the tax rolls is in a government database of some sort. Is that what Carson's referring to here? The context suggests that he has something closer to FBI files in mind, but who knows? Looks like we'll need an all-too-frequent Carson clarification on this one. Parting thought: Let's say Trump is actually dead set against a Muslim registry, and all of this was just a big misunderstanding that led to a media smear job. Shouldn't Trump's apparent lack of awareness and messy rapid response operation worry Republican primary voters, at least?
After hours of negative coverage, wouldn't competent campaign quickly clarify his stance, esp if he misunderstood Q? https://t.co/ojh23yRGGG— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 20, 2015
Rush rips drive-by MSM over Trump/Muslim database. Shouldn't candidates be smart & agile enough to reject dumb premises, not ACCEPT them?— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 20, 2015