- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2015

A pair of polls Thursday revealed that about two-thirds of Republican voters support Donald Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the country, putting pressure on other GOP presidential candidates to re-evaluate attacking the idea as “un-American.”

Voters overall reject Mr. Trump’s call, which has been disavowed by leaders from around the globe, by Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. and by pundits who call Mr. Trump a bigot and his plan an assault on freedom of religion.

But Republican voters saw it differently. A Bloomberg Politics poll showed that 65 percent of Republican voters back the ban, and a Rasmussen Reports poll showed support of 66 percent.

Mr. Trump also has surged in overall support for the Republican nomination in a CBS/New York Times poll with 35 percent support — 19 percentage points higher than his closest rival.

Republican campaign strategist Jim McLaughlin said Mr. Trump’s rivals miscalculated when they attacked his plan, underestimating the level of frustration in the electorate with President Obama’s national security policies.

“Our base and Republicans in general and a lot of independents and swing voters don’t trust this president when it comes to their national security right now,” he said. “To some extent, he’s made them desperate.”

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump surges to 35 percent in national poll on 2016 GOP race

He said Mr. Trump’s plan was ridiculous and likely would never become law. To voters, though, it sounds better than doing nothing.

“It goes back to the frustration of voters right now who don’t think this president is serious about securing the borders, they don’t think he is serious about fighting terrorism and they don’t think he is serious about keeping us safe,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s surge added to fears within the Republican establishment that Mr. Trump is damaging the party, possibly ruining the chance for any Republican to win the White House next year.

Lawmakers responded Thursday by staging a symbolic vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on an amendment to affirm that the U.S. will not tailor its immigration and visitor policies based on religion.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said it was an effort to go on the record rejecting Mr. Trump’s proposal “and send a clear and direct message that America welcomes people from all countries and of all faiths.”

The amendment passed on a 16-4 vote, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of Mr. Trump’s competitors, joining three other Republicans in opposing Mr. Leahy’s move.

Mr. Cruz has been one of the more muted presidential rivals in his criticisms of Mr. Trump. On Thursday, he issued a press release denouncing a New York Times story as misleading after the paper reported that he questioned Mr. Trump’s judgment at a closed-door fundraiser this week.

Other Republicans continued their condemnation of Mr. Trump. One of then was Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose struggling presidential campaign got some attention this week when he said Mr. Trump should “go to hell.”

“He’s playing on prejudice and xenophobia,” Mr. Graham said on MSNBC on Thursday. “I’m going to continue to criticize him and Obama and others. The good news is most of the Republican Party’s coming my way when it comes to national security. And what Mr. Trump is doing is he’s empowering the enemy.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is among the top tier of Republican presidential candidates, was more measured in his criticism of Mr. Trump’s proposal. He said it would never become law but that U.S. leaders need to get serious about confronting the terrorist threat.

“The truth is that there are elements within Islam that are radicalized and that believe it is their duty to kill or enslave anyone who does not believe in their interpretation of their faith,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.

Mr. Trump announced his proposal in response to the terrorist attack last week in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead.

He has added caveats to his call for a temporary ban on admitting Muslims into the U.S. but has not backed away from the general thrust.

The Bloomberg Politics national poll found that 65 percent of likely Republican primary voters approved of Mr. Trump’s plan. Among all voters, 37 backed him and 50 percent opposed his idea.

The Republican response was virtually unchanged when the pollsters further explained the proposal, saying Mr. Trump wants to bar Muslims until American leaders get a handle on the threat of Islamic terrorism. The pollster also said that “leaders from across the political spectrum have condemned this policy … [as] against everything we believe in as Americans.”

“We believe these numbers are made up of some people who are truly expressing religious bigotry and others who are fearful about terrorism and are willing to do anything they think might make us safer,” said Purple Strategies pollster Doug Usher.

The Rasmussen Reports survey didn’t include Mr. Trump’s name and found slightly higher support among overall voters, with 46 percent favoring the Muslim ban, 40 percent opposed and 14 percent undecided.

“It’s not that Republican voters or voters in general are prejudiced against Muslims in any way, but they think a pause on Muslim immigration is a good, common-sense move at this point. There’s too many questions out there about San Bernardino,” said Fran Coombs, managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the voters at odds with the media or the voters at odds with the people in Washington, D.C. That fact may help explain the success that Trump appears to be having,” he said. “People feel like their leaders in Washington don’t hear what they’re saying.”

Another poll found more opposition to Mr. Trump’s plan.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 57 percent of Americans opposed a temporary ban on Muslims while 25 percent agreed with the idea.

Republican primary voters split on the questions, 38 percent for it versus 39 percent against it. Democrats again overwhelmingly opposed it, 75 percent to 11 percent, according to the poll.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, said in an email to supporters Thursday that the entire Republican field will have to answer for Mr. Trump’s comments.

“To Muslim Americans, I want to say this: What you’re hearing from Trump and other Republicans is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” she said. “I’m proud to be your fellow American, and many, many other Americans feel the same way. Now is the time for all of us to stand up to hateful, dangerous words and deeds.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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