MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. » Donald Trump today stood by his call to block all Muslims from entering the United States, even as the idea was widely condemned by rival Republican presidential candidates, party leaders and others as un-American.
“I don’t care about them,” Trump told CNN when asked about denunciation of the idea by GOP leaders. “I’m doing what’s right.”
He defended his plan for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” by comparing it with President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to intern Japanese Americans during World War II.
“This is a president who was highly respected by all,” Trump said today. “If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse.”
Trump’s call Monday for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” has drawn an unusually forceful level of rebuke and condemnation from across the party and abroad.
British Prime Minister David Cameron slammed it as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.” Muslims in the United States and around the world denounced it as unconstitutional or offensive. The front page of the Philadelphia Daily News featured a photo of Trump holding his right hand out as if in a Nazi salute with the headline “The New Furor.”
“This is not conservatism,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after a closed-door GOP caucus meeting in response to Trump’s comments. “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
But Trump, who appears to revel in controversy, didn’t back down, saying that banning all Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” is warranted after last month’s attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14.
“We are now at war,” Trump said, adding: “We have a president who doesn’t want to say that.”
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest lambasted Trump as a “carnival barker” and called on his rivals to denounce their fellow candidate.
“What he said is disqualifying,” Earnest said. “Any Republican who’s too fearful of the Republican base to admit it has no business serving as president, either.”
Trump’s proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike, a sweeping prohibition affecting all adherents of a religion practiced by more than a billion people worldwide.
Trump announced his plan to cheers and applause at a Monday evening rally in South Carolina.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said in a written statement explaining his position.
At the rally he referred to the 9/11 attacks, warning that without drastic action, “it’s going to get worse and worse, you’re going to have more World Trade Centers.”
Rod Weader, a 68-year-old real estate agent from North Charleston who attended the rally and said he agreed with Trump’s plan “150 percent.”
“As he says, we have to find out who they are and why they are here,” he said.
Since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more, a number of Republican presidential contenders have proposed restrictions on Syrian refugees — with several suggesting preference for Christians seeking asylum — and tighter surveillance in the U.S.
But Trump’s proposed ban goes much further, and his Republican rivals were quick to reject the latest provocation from a candidate who has delivered no shortage of them. “Donald Trump is unhinged,” Jeb Bush said via Twitter. “His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”
John Kasich slammed Trump’s “outrageous divisiveness,” while a more measured Ted Cruz, who has always been cautious about upsetting Trump’s supporters, said, “Well, that is not my policy.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham went further, warning that Trump’s rhetoric risked inflaming tensions in the Middle East, echoing concerns that it plays right into the recruiting strategy of Islamic State militants, who have framed their battle as a war between Islam and the West.
“He’s putting our soldiers and diplomats at risk, he’s empowering the enemy,” said Graham, another GOP presidential contender, in an interview with CNN. Trump, he said, is making new enemies of people “who came to our side in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are under siege in their own countries.”
“It basically becomes a death sentence for them,” he added, describing Trump as “ISIL man of the year.”
Trump’s plan also drew criticism from the heads of the Republican Party in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three states to vote in next year’s presidential primaries.
“It is un-Republican. It is unconstitutional. And it is un-American,” said Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Hampshire.
(Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a written statement, “When Donald Trump proposed to block all Muslims from entering the United States, he referred to Roosevelt’s classification of thousands of Japanese, Germans, and Italians during the war as ‘enemy aliens’ as precedent. This shameful page of our history led to the internment of thousands of Japanese American families. In 1988, President Reagan offered a formal apology for this disgrace. We should remember this chapter in history in order to never repeat the same injustice.”)
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Trump’s proposed ban would apply to “everybody,” including Muslims seeking immigration visas as well as tourists seeking to enter the country.
In an interview on Fox News, Trump said Muslim members of the U.S. armed forces would “come home” and that his plan would “not apply to people living in the country.”
In the late 1800s, Congress passed legislation broadly aimed at halting Chinese immigration. But, said Leti Volpp, a University of California expert on immigration law, “there is no precedent for a religious litmus test for admitting immigrants into the United States.”
“Excluding almost a quarter of the world’s population from setting foot in the United States based solely upon their religious identity would never pass constitutional muster,” Volpp said.
Trump’s proposal came a day after President Barack Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office about the shootings in San Bernardino, California, which Obama said was “an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”
The FBI said Monday the Muslim couple who carried out the massacre had been radicalized and had taken target practice at area gun ranges, in one case within days of the attack last week that killed 14 people.
Trump’s campaign has been marked by a pattern of inflammatory statements, dating back to his harsh rhetoric about Mexican immigrants. He has taken a particularly hard line against Muslims in the days since the Paris attacks, advocating enhanced surveillance of mosques due to fears over radicalization.
“Donald Trump sounds more like a leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “He and others are playing into the hands of ISIS. This is exactly what ISIS wants from Americans: to turn against each other.”
Honolulu Star-Advertiser staff contributed to this report.