It does not matter why Donald Trump says the things he says. It does not matter if he says them to get media attention, to send "dog whistles" to people at the fringe of the electorate, to stake an unassailable claim to certain political ground, to establish an extreme position from which he will later negotiate back toward a subsequently shifted middle ground -- none of these explanations justify the things Trump continues to say in his bizarre, unpredictable presidential campaign.
The hallmark of the Trump campaign has been his willingness to say absolutely anything if he thinks it will give him some kind of an advantage. He has said outrageous-to-merely-insulting things about Mexicans and Hispanic immigrants in general; women collectively and Rosie O'Donnell and Megyn Kelly individually; Iowans; Ben Carson specifically and Seventh-Day Adventists generally; John McCain personally and all POWs by implication; and of course pretty much every one of his opponents in both the Republican and Democratic primaries. Of course, he has also pandered to most, if not all, of these groups along the way as well, part of his apparent routine of playing both good cop and bad cop all by himself.
But his latest belief-beggaring statement -- that the United States should ban all Muslims from entering the country, for any kind of reason, whoever they are and wherever they might live or be coming from -- should be a clarifying moment to anyone who has been willing to indulge the various excuses for Trump.
This was no slip-up, no case of anyone in the media over-hyping or distorting what Trump said. Below is a screenshot (as of 9:10 a.m. today) of a press release on Trump's campaign website :
That initial description of what Trump wants -- "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on" -- leaves no room for distortion, misinterpretation or anything else. The candidate has previously said he thinks mosques should be under surveillance and that the U.S. should maintain some kind of database of Muslims living here.
I've seen some folks speculate Trump, who has built his campaign on what politicos call "earned media," or getting the media to talk about you rather than paying for advertisements, was just trying to gin up some attention for a speech he gave last night in Charleston, S.C. I've seen suggestions Trump would never actually do that (and sure enough, he apparently has tried to backtrack a bit and claim the ban might not apply to U.S. citizens or those present legally). As I said from the outset, though, it no longer matters if there's a method to Trump's madness.
I continue to believe Trump will not be the GOP nominee -- though I no longer exclude the possibility. But this is not about partisanship. This is about whether it is acceptable to allow a man who speaks this way to be a major political figure in this country. I'm not talking about censorship by the government; I'm suggesting the public need to stop indulging the man (although a strong defense of American liberty, and explanation of why Trump is out of step with it, from someone like RNC chairman Reince Priebus would also be most welcome right about now). However we may be warped into thinking reality TV is real, that celebrity represents something meaningful, that the political system is so corrupt as to warrant turning it upside-down -- again, whatever your pet justification for taking Trump seriously -- there is no justification for supporting a man who would rip the Constitution to defend the nation established by it. If you have ever criticized President Obama for acting unconstitutionally, as I have, your answer cannot be that two wrongs make a right.
In closing, I will acknowledge one possible, exculpatory explanation for Trump's words: that he got into this race not intending to win it and, having risen to the level of GOP front-runner, is now trying to sabotage his own campaign and drive away supporters before either the ignominy of actual defeat at the ballot box or an undesired victory. If that's the case, then, to borrow from H.L. Mencken, we should give Trump just what he wants, good and hard.