Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall meeting on the Wofford College campus in Spartanburg, S.C., in November. (Richard Shiro/AP)
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump sought to walk back his support for a database of Muslims living in the U.S. after receiving criticism from religious groups as well as his fellow candidates.
In an interview with Yahoo News published Thursday, Trump said security concerns would necessitate “certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” When asked whether those measures would include registering American Muslims in a database or giving them special identification, he acknowledged it was a possibility, saying, “We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Later that day, Trump doubled down on his comments to NBC News, saying he “would certainly implement” a database to track Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he said. “We should have a lot of systems.”
Friday, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told Fox Business, “Those are a reporters’ words and now everyone is saying it’s all Trump. He’s simply saying he won’t take anything off the table,” and emphasized the Republican was “just saying he won’t rule anything out.”
However, by Friday afternoon, Trump was attempting to distance himself from the comments, tweeting, “I didn’t suggest a database — a reporter did,” and indicated his support for government surveillance, including a terrorist watch list.
I didn’t suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)November 20, 2015
Trump’s clarification came on the heels of criticism from his fellow 2016 candidates from both parties as well as prominent religious leaders.
On the left, the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to condemn Trump’s “shocking rhetoric,” saying, “It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country.”
This is shocking rhetoric. It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country. -H https://t.co/qs2TJI5spu— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)November 20, 2015
Senator Bernie Sanders characterized Trump’s remarks as “an outrageous and bigoted statement,” while Martin O’Malley asked, “What the hell is that? I mean, how is that at all American?” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders)November 20, 2015
We will not destroy ISIS by undermining the Constitution and our religious freedoms.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders)November 20, 2015
Meanwhile, Trump’s main rival in the polls, Ben Carson, declined to rule out the idea of a database, saying, “I think we should have a database on everyone who comes into this country. … If we don’t, we are doing a very poor job.”
Fellow Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush weighed in on Trump’s comments Friday on CNBC, saying he found the suggestion of a Muslim database “abhorrent.” The “serious problem” of terrorism “does not mean we should be disrespectful of Muslims in our country,” he said. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has so far enjoyed a friendly public relationship with the GOP frontrunner, said, “I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s, but I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens,” and reiterated the need to protect religious liberty.
Sen. Marco Rubio, however, took the opportunity to advocate for arguably more extreme measures on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” Thursday night. When asked if he agreed with the idea of closing down mosques, Rubio responded, “It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a café, a diner, an Internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired … any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at.”
Trump’s statements were roundly criticized by various religious leaders, as well. Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaking on NBC News, compared the proposal of a national database to what was created in prewar Nazi Germany. This sentiment was echoed by Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, who told NBC, “My father was in World War II, and he fought to preserve America against what the Nazis were doing. This is exactly why there is an America, to not be like that.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a prominent evangelical figure, told BuzzFeed News he was “astounded” by Trump’s comments about closing down mosques, and said he worried that “any president who would call for shutting down houses of worship … is the sort of political power that can ultimately shut down evangelical churches.”