The muted GOP response to Roy Moore’s anti-Muslim prejudice

Peter Beinart writes: Historians will record that for about half a decade, between the presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, Republicans tussled over whether to welcome anti-Muslim bigotry into their party. The response to Roy Moore’s nomination on Tuesday as the GOP’s Senate candidate in Alabama shows—even more clearly than Donald Trump’s election—that the fight is over. In today’s GOP, claiming that American Muslims don’t deserve equal rights has become so normal that prominent Republicans no longer object. They barely even notice.

To chart this moral descent, it’s worth starting in March 2011, when a reporter for ThinkProgress asked Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your Cabinet or as a federal judge?” Cain’s reply: “No, I will not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”

The response from GOP elites was scathing. “We recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” said presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney when asked about Cain’s comments. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance.” When Cain showed up to a breakfast hosted by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, several participants chastised him. Soon, Cain was insisting he had been misconstrued. By the summer, he had publicly apologized. “I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” he declared. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.” For good measure, he visited a mosque.

In 2012, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann made her own foray into Islamophobia by signing a letter, along with four House Republican colleagues, demanding an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s Muslim aide Huma Abedin. John McCain responded by going to the Senate Floor to declare that the assault on Abedin “is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans.” House GOP leader John Boehner called the attacks “dangerous.” Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s own former campaign chairman wrote an oped on that concluded, “Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges.” That was only five years ago.

Then it was Ben Carson’s turn. In September 2015, the surgeon turned presidential hopeful said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam was not “consistent with the Constitution.” The media responded by asking Carson’s rivals for comment, and most of them—even social conservative hardliners like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee—said they disagreed.

But then something interesting happened. Unlike Cain, Carson refused to apologize. Instead, he attacked the media and the left. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, declared on CNN’s morning show that his boss would continue “telling the truth, even if it makes CNN and others uncomfortable.” Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett crowed that, “While the left is huffing and puffing, the Republican primary voters are with us at least 80-20.” Donald Trump went even further. Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether “putting a Muslim in the White House” is okay, Trump responded that, “some people have said it already happened.” [Continue reading…]

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