We Are in the Grip of Violent Extremism, and All We Can Talk About Is Trump?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as if he is sleeping while talking about his opponent Jeb Bush during a Trump for President campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 4. Jonathan Drake/Reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Our nation has just suffered the worst attack on our soil since 9/11. Once again, President Obama underestimated the threat, telling us that there was no danger of a Paris-style attack just a day before shooters killed 14 and injured 21 in California.

The president is under increasing pressure to change course in his handling of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) threat. A new CNN/ORC poll shows that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of ISIS and 68 percent say his military response to the group is not aggressive enough. A critical debate is taking place, and our national security hangs in the balance.

And what are we all talking about?

Donald Trump.

Ever since Trump put forward his absurd "plan" for, as he put it, "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," the attacks have been shunted aside for yet another period of wall-to-wall Trump coverage—over a proposal, mind you, that has zero chance of ever being put into effect.

Trump's latest outrage requires scrutiny and repudiation, and the repudiation has been nearly universal. Speaker Paul Ryan put it best when he declared, "This is not conservatism." Amen.

But it is simply pathetic that we have to pause a critical national-security discussion to debate Trump's ridiculous proposal.

Who benefits from this, besides Trump? Let's count the winners.

Barack Obama benefits—because Trump has sucked all the oxygen out of the news environment and changed the subject from his failed ISIS strategy.

Hillary Clinton benefits—because when all the GOP candidates are fighting among themselves, and debating whether we should have a total ban on all Muslims from entering the country, she wins.

The mainstream media benefits—because the Trump spectacle delivers ratings while switching the subject from Obama's failures to the GOP's troubles.

ISIS benefits—because Trump's comments are a massive propaganda windfall for the forces of Islamic radicalism, validating the ISIS narrative that America is at war not just with Islamic radicals but with all Muslims.

Who loses? The country—because by shifting the discussion from Obama's failures to Trump's latest outrage, the pressure on the White House to change course in the fight against ISIS is lifted.

The Republican Party also loses. Obama gave a speech Sunday night essentially accusing Republicans of scapegoating all Muslims. The Republican reply was "No one is doing that, Mr. President."

Then Donald Trump stepped forward and…scapegoated all Muslims.

For weeks, Obama has been charging that Republicans are "betraying our values" for raising legitimate concerns about his ability to screen Syrian refugees. With the California attacks, those GOP concerns were just vindicated. If we can't stop an attacker from entering on a "fiancée visa," how are we going to effectively screen Syrian refugees?

But instead of talking about that, we're stuck talking about Donald Trump's outrageous proposal, which actually does "betray our values." Trump is aiding and abetting Obama's effort to paint Republicans as anti-Muslim bigots.

The only possible silver lining is the hope that maybe—just maybe—Trump has finally gone too far. After the attacks in Paris and California, Americans realize we're at a critical moment in the fight with Islamic radicalism. ISIS is winning. We are losing.

As Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter admitted on December 9, ISIS is not "contained." In these dangerous times, we need a serious person as the next commander in chief. Is it possible that enough voters who have until now been drawn to Trump's political incorrectness will now, finally, begin to question whether he is serious enough to sit in the Oval Office?

That is the hope, but it is a faint one. So far, nothing Trump says seems to hurt him. But this much is certain: If a call to ban all Muslims from entering the country does not hurt him, then I suspect nothing will.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.