The Muslim Ban Returns
Trump attacks Haley for opposing his 2015 plan to bar immigrants based on religion.
IN THE FINAL DAYS BEFORE THE IOWA CAUCUSES, Donald Trump is accusing Nikki Haley of being soft on terrorism. But the way he’s doing it tells a deeper story about Trump, his bigotry, and the fascist threat he poses: He’s attacking Haley, in effect, for opposing his 2015 proposal to ban all Muslims from coming to America.
On December 7, 2015, Trump called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” As the campaign went on, he spewed more false and bigoted statements about Muslims. But behind the scenes, his advisers rewrote his proposal so it could pass legal muster. By June 2016, when Trump brought it up again, the language had changed. The new version would “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies.” The word “Muslim” had been removed.
Trump won the election, and in January 2017, he issued an order to implement a third version of the ban. The order suspended “entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12)” of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Those countries were Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Two more revisions followed, but they were minor by comparison. So essentially, there were three versions of the ban: the 2015 version, which explicitly targeted Muslims, and the 2016 and 2017 versions, which didn’t.
Haley, who was then the governor of South Carolina, opposed the 2015 version but not the 2016 version. Later, as Trump’s U.N. ambassador, she supported and defended the 2017 version. In reviews of her record, PolitiFact and the New York Times have found no evidence that she opposed any version of the ban other than the one that explicitly targeted Muslims.
That position—defending America against terrorism, but refusing to ban all Muslims—is what Trump is now attacking.
TRUMP LAUNCHED HIS LATEST ASSAULT on Haley in a TV ad that began running last week. The ad says “Haley joined [Joe] Biden in opposing Trump’s visitor ban from terrorist nations. Haley’s weakness puts us in grave danger.” To support this accusation, the ad cites a CNN report. The text on the screen says: “HALEY OPPOSED TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN — CNN 12-9-15.”
CNN did publish an article about the proposed ban on December 9, 2015. The only objections the article attributed to Haley were about religious discrimination. According to the CNN report, Haley called Trump’s proposal “unconstitutional,” “absolutely un-American,” and “just wrong.” “It defies everything that this country was based on,” she said.
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On Monday, the Trump campaign cited two more sources for its ad against Haley. One is a 2015 article in the Hill, which repeated the same quotes that were published by CNN. The other is a March 2017 interview with Haley on NBC’s Today show. In that interview, Haley, who was then Trump’s U.N. ambassador, defended the third version of his ban. She emphasized that it applied to specific countries, not to all Muslims:
It’s not a Muslim ban. I will never support a Muslim ban. I don’t think we should ever ban anyone based on their religion. That is un-American. . . . As the daughter of Indian immigrants, I am extremely sensitive to the fact that the fabric of America is immigrants. I want that to always be the case. But I also understand that the countries in question have serious terrorist activity going on.
These three sources—the CNN report, the Hill report, and the Today interview—are the only evidence the Trump campaign has produced to support its allegation that Haley opposed Trump’s ban. In all three cases, Haley made it clear that her sole objection was to targeting an entire faith. In the Today interview, she also made it clear that while she opposed the anti-Muslim version of the ban, she supported the anti-terrorist version.
No honest person who looks at these articles—which the Trump campaign clearly did, since it linked its news release directly to them—could miss Haley’s point. The headline on the Hill story says, “Nikki Haley denounces Trump’s Muslim ban idea.” The headline on the Today story says, “UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on TODAY: ‘I will never support a Muslim ban.’”
By using these articles as its basis to accuse Haley of opposing the ban—and to condemn her for that position—Trump’s campaign is signaling that banning people from certain countries isn’t enough. A candidate who refuses to ban all Muslims, in Trump’s view, is too weak to protect America.
YOU COULD ARGUE THAT TRUMP is just trying to tar Haley as soft on terrorism, and he doesn’t care about the details. After all, he doesn’t use the word “Muslim” in his ad. Is it really fair to interpret the ad as a renewed appeal to bigotry?
Yes, it is. Trump has always exploited anti-Muslim prejudice. And on the campaign trail, he’s still doing it.
Trump’s record is full of anti-Muslim tweets and statements: “Islam hates us,” “The Muslim community is not reporting what’s going on,” “They’re trying to take over our children and convince them how wonderful ISIS is and how wonderful Islam is.” In 2016, he implied that Muslims should be collectively punished for terrorist plots: “The Muslims are the ones that have to report them. And if they don’t report them, then there have to be consequences to them.”
Trump’s favorite target for Islamophobic mockery is former President Barack Obama. Obama, like Haley, is a Christian, but Trump loves to imply that he’s a closet Muslim. “He doesn’t have a birth certificate,” Trump falsely alleged in 2011, as part of a long-running propaganda campaign to depict Obama as a foreigner. “Maybe it says he is a Muslim.”
In his 2024 campaign, Trump has returned to this theme, playing on Obama’s middle name. And now Trump is coupling this with his attack on Haley. On Friday, at a rally in Iowa, Trump claimed that Haley “stabbed the Republican party in the back by siding . . . with Barack Hussein Obama” against Trump’s proposed travel ban. In case anyone missed the ethnic/religious jab, Trump repeated it with emphasis: “Has anybody ever heard of Barack Hussein Obama?” Trump circled back, this time practically shouting the name: “Barack HUSSEIN Obama.”1 On his fourth pass, he returned to Haley: “She sided with, uh, Barack Hussein Obama against us on the Trump travel ban.”
Then, on Monday, Trump recirculated a tweet that suggested Haley was ineligible to serve as president because “her parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of her birth.” In reality, Haley is eligible because she was born in this country. But Trump’s promotion of the tweet served its purpose: casting suspicion on Haley because her parents were non-naturalized Indian immigrants.
There’s no mystery about what Trump is doing. He has always distrusted Muslims. He believes, correctly, that most Republicans share that feeling, and he has no more compunction about using this as a wedge against Haley than he did about using it against Obama. Trump knows that if Haley were to fire back at him, by pointing out that Trump wanted to ban all Muslims and she didn’t, that position would hurt her in the Republican primaries. In a party full of anti-Muslim sentiment, she can’t afford to make that point. And so far, she hasn’t.
In his speech on Friday, Trump attributed the “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” pronunciation to the late radio host Rush Limbaugh.