Trump Defends His 'Shutdown' of Muslims Comments, Plays to Base

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters and signs autographs after a campaign stop in Spencer, Iowa. Still at the top of the GOP polls, Trump has made headlines for calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Mark Kauzlarich/REUTERS

“There’s no problem. I’m just doing the right thing.”

That’s what Donald Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo during an interview early Tuesday morning. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States outraged voices in the media and the Democratic party while drawing sharp criticism from several Republican candidates, but among GOP voters, the idea might make him more popular than ever.

Trump read his statement on Muslim immigration out loud in its entirety during a rally in South Carolina last night and received a standing ovation. The statement is short, calling for the barring of all Muslims attempting to enter the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

A CNN report from the South Carolina rally chronicled the enthusiastic response from several Trump supporters in attendance, one of whom called Islam “a blood cult.”

As Nate Silver wrote on FiveThirtyEight, several of Trump’s closest competitors, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, had modest responses to his controversial proposal Monday. Cruz, who has been the least willing of GOP candidates to criticize Trump, told reporters that he had a different policy

Although the latest anti-Muslim statement coming out of Trump’s campaign is the most extreme, it’s far from the first: Trump has previously called for monitoring mosques and registering Muslims in a database, an idea many compared to the Nazi policy of making Jews wear identifying stars.

It’s also not the first time that anti-Muslim sentiments have been brought into the spotlight at a Republican campaign event. In 2008, John McCain famously talked down a supporter at a rally who said that Barack Obama was “an Arab,” and told the crowd that the president was neither Arab nor Muslim and a good man.

Trump is citing some probably erroneous statistical information when he claims that a significant percentage of Muslim Americans want to do harm to the country; yet he sees significant evidence that the country is in favor of policies like his, and he might not be wrong about a large percentage of the American people.

“What Roosevelt did was much worse,” he told Cuomo. On Tuesday morning Trump made a number of allusions to Japanese internment during World War II in various interviews—the day after the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Just as he praised Dwight Eisenhower’s controversial “Operation Wetback” as an example of an effective response to illegal immigration, Trump’s allusion to an earlier period of history was meant to underscore the supposition that his policies are not actually without precedent. And he could have added that they are often popular.

“I spoke before an audience last night, a massive  audience last night...and you got standing ovations as soon as this was mentioned…these are intelligent people...these are our citizens,” Trump told Cuomo.