I can’t tell if he’s serious or if this is a sort of game being played between him and a reporter, Hunter Walker, who knows how Trump operates rhetorically. Note that it’s Walker, not Trump, who floats the idea of special IDs and warrantless searches, picking up from what Trump said this past week about closing down mosques. How far would President Trump go? Let’s find out:
Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Trump never gives him a straight answer but he won’t rule anything out. The game here is this: Trump, the blunt-spoken outsider, needs to protect his image as the most politically incorrect candidate in the race, but there are lines even he won’t cross for fear of the backlash that would follow. And Walker knows that. His questions are designed to push Trump as far he thinks he might be willing to go in the name of being anti-PC before reaching the sort of “major political liability” territory that would force him to bail out. If you asked him “Should Muslims have to walk around with Islamic crescents pinned to their shirts?”, he’d have the basic common sense to recognize (I think?) that you were trying to get him to endorse an anti-semitic Nazi policy by analogy. He’d reject that idea, I’m … somewhat confident. But what if you suggested special ID cards just for Muslims? How does Trump process that? The Nazi analogy is a bit more obscure now, and biometric IDs for all American citizens are often proposed nowadays as one way to make it easier to track illegals inside the country. Would Trump recognize that forcing people of one specific religion to carry special IDs wouldn’t last five minutes in court against an equal protection challenge? (Same goes for warrantless searches of members of one religion, which is DOA on equal protection and Fourth Amendment grounds.) Even if he did recognize the constitutional problem, would he refuse to rule anything out anyway for fear that his fans would see him as “just another PC politician” if he did? This guy’s selling himself as a superhero who’ll cut through the morass in Washington and “get things done.” If he starts adding “unless a court stops me” to that, he’s finished. What’s clever about Walker’s question is that it casts doubt on Trump three different ways: Either he doesn’t know the Constitution well enough to engage the legal issues here, he does know it but he’s too afraid to cross his supporters by opposing Walker’s proposals, or he genuinely thinks Walker’s proposals are worth considering and doesn’t care if some judge disagrees. Given that he’s been talking about shutting down mosques lately, there’s a strong possibility that the answer lies behind door number three.
I’m mighty curious to hear what the conservatarians, Rand Paul and especially Ted Cruz, have to say about this, especially at a moment when Americans are justifiably worried about ISIS. Both of them realize these policies would get thrown out of court, but are they willing to say so? Rand wants to bar not only Syrian refugees from the U.S., he wants French citizens to face a waiting period before visiting now. Cruz, meanwhile, would allow Syrian refugees to come — unless they’re Muslim, in which case they’re barred. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean he’d agree with Trump about how to treat Muslim citizens of the United States. Citizens have rights whereas entry to the U.S. for foreigners is a privilege.) Both Paul and Cruz are eager not to get on the wrong side of GOP primary voters on this subject, and Cruz is angling to be the second or third (behind Ben Carson) choice for Trump voters. Would he rule out special IDs and warrantless searches for Muslims? I’d bet he would but Ted Cruz can be pretty cagey about avoiding difficult topics when he wants to.