It’s a pretty bad day for the GOP when a leading columnist and party stalwart excoriates the two front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination as dangerously misguided on the most worrisome national security issue. That’s what WaPo columnist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson did in his latest column “The anti-Muslim rhetoric of Trump and Cruz only helps terrorists.” An excerpt:
In Ted Cruz’s view, the United States is “voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we are.” He would have us “carpet bomb” the Islamic State and “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized” here at home.
“Look,” says Donald Trump, “we’re having problems with the Muslims.” He would “knock the hell out of ISIS,” close the border to Muslim immigrants “until we figure out what’s going on,” “do a lot more than waterboarding” and target the families of terrorists (at least until he seemed to backpedal).
But here is the problem. Rhetoric that targets “the Muslims” and singles out Americans for suspicion based on nothing more than their faith seriously complicates the war against terrorism…
Gerson goes on to explain that “anti-Muslim rhetoric strains relations with Sunni Muslim countries.” He quotes former acting CIA director Mike Morell, who adds that “It certainly feeds extremist recruitment…but it also makes even moderate Muslims wonder if the extremists may be right.”
Gerson notes further that “anti-Muslim rhetoric needlessly disrupts relationships with American Muslim communities that are often the first to recognize and report radicalization in their midst,” which cripples our intelligence gathering needlessly.
“Alienating Muslim allies, scapegoating Muslim citizens and resigning ourselves to a global religious conflict,” says Gerson, “would grant the terrorists a victory without a battle. Which makes Trump and Cruz either quite cynical or alarmingly oblivious.”
That’s quite an assertion from one of the most respected members of the Republican establishment. With that concern, It’s hard to see how he could even vote for his party’s nominee, since Kasich is now regarded as a fading long-shot, even in the most optimistic scenarios of GOP moderates.
Trump seems to have a singular talent for provoking his GOP adversaries to engage in lower levels of political discussion. As Gerson’s fellow syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. put it, “The terrorist attacks in Belgium brought out the worst in Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Cruz demonstrated that his only focus right now is to find ways of out-Trumping Trump. He seeks words that sound at least as intolerant and as dangerous to civil liberties as the formulations that regularly burst forth from the Republican front-runner.”
The mutual intemperance of the two GOP aspirants has spilled over into areas long regarded as taboo in previous presidential campaigns. Gerson’s column punctuated a bad week for Republicans, which included jr. high school trash talk about each others wives. The exchange concluded with Cruz calling Trump a “sniveling coward,” an extraordinary ad hominem attack for a former college debate champion — which should pretty much end prospects for a unity ticket bearing both of their names.
“With large parts of the Republican establishment giving up on Kasich and embracing Cruz as the last anti-Trump hope,” says Dionne, “we can now look forward to a GOP race to the bottom in which fear itself is the only thing its leading candidates have to offer.”
If American swing voters decide in November that a cool head is needed to navigate the dangerous shoals of global terrorism, the Republicans may be facing a rout of historic proportions.