NEW YORK -- Everyone rounded on Donald Trump on Tuesday, both across American and around the world. The bellicose presidential candidate has run the campaign of the political outsider, lurching from one belligerent statement to the next. This has yielded diminishing returns, forcing the frontrunner to adopt ever more extreme positions to placate the seething anger of the older, white and uneducated mass that form the mainstay of his support.
Because of this, Trump has enjoyed a turbulent yet respectful relationship with members of the press in recent months. Yet Monday’s assertion that Muslims should be banned from the United States crossed the Rubicon for some journalists, American media finally waking up to their responsibility to provide pushback against the business tycoon’s dangerous demagoguery.
On Tuesday morning, Trump gave a near-30 minute interview to MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ the host, Joe Scarborough, becoming so irate at Trump’s refusal to answer specific questions that he cut him off with a commercial. To Trump’s credit, he remained on the line and completed what was a combative and uncomfortable interview.
That was followed with a 15-minute defense of his fear-soaked policy on CNN, host Chris Cuomo engaging in a schoolyard scrap with the presidential hopeful, who again refused to offer any details beyond stock lines that “we are at war.”
Yet it's not just the media that is shifting. The Republican Party, fearful that Trump will goose-step the GOP straight off a cliff before next November’s general election, is also offering some resistance. Tuesday afternoon brought a denunciation from the highly respected speaker of the House, former Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
"Freedom of religion's a fundamental constitutional principle," Ryan told the press. "It's a founding principle of this country."
"Normally," he continued, "I do not comment on what's going on in the presidential election. I will take an exception today. This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it's not what this country stands for."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus added to the disapproval, condemning Trump's proposal. "I don't agree," he said on Tuesday. "We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values."
Then there was this from the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney:
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump had an opportunity to back peddle on the comments that had ignited the dismay. Instead, he used an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC to forge ahead, shrugging before telling the host, "Somebody in this country has to say what's right."
Trump will not back down and for two good reasons. Putting aside notions that he’s simply a racist (as argued by the New Yorker), the businessman is also running for President, with a recent poll suggesting Trump's Islam ban chimes with a majority of Americans.
A November survey from the Public Religion Research Institute asked Americans whether "the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life." Some 56 percent of all Americans agreed that Islamic values are incompatible with US values. When it came to Republican voters, Trump's target audience, that figure increased to 76 percent. And no amount of berating from the media or the political class is going to divert Trump away from those simple numbers.
Trump also has the Republican Party in a headlock. His popularity is such that should Republicans condemn him too vehemently, he could abandon them and run as an independent candidate, splitting the conservative vote and handing the White House to the Democrats and likely Hillary Clinton.
And that's why, despite rumblings of disquiet from the grandees of the GOP, not a single one on Tuesday said they would not support Trump should he win the party nomination. The will condemn him, but they won’t abandon him. And that’s why Trump has and will continue to say whatever plays into the frothing bigotry of his extremely committed supporters.