Donald Trump softened his plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States earlier this month when he announced it was just a suggestion. “We have a serious problem, and it’s a temporary ban — it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on,” Trump said on May 12th.
Today the Hill reports that one of Trump’s national security advisers, Walid Phares, has been having private discussions with conservative Muslims who are considering supporting Trump’s campaign. Phares tells The Hill, “Most of those who reached out said they want to support Mr. Trump, but they’re not clear about some of the statements he’s made.” You can probably guess which statements they are concerned about. The Hill reports how Phares is describing the ban on Muslims to other Muslims:
Phares described the ban as a statement about how seriously Trump views the terror threat, rather than a statement of policy. He said Trump will further explain and refine his position as he takes government briefings and meets with interested parties.
“Right now the ban is just a few sentences in a foreign policy announcement and a tweet, it’s not like he’s written books or published articles or delivered lectures on this,” Phares said. “He’ll continue to add context and distinction to his position as he gets new information.”
Phares is walking a fine line here. He isn’t saying Trump has backed away from the idea, which polls show a narrow majority of Americans support, but he is creating space for Trump to alter or even drop it later “as he gets new information.” And if Phares did describe the ban as a statement of seriousness rather than a policy, that would seem to go a long way toward suggesting Trump is not going to take it much beyond talk.
Trump may be a lot more reasonable behind the scenes than some of his primary rhetoric makes him appear. His problem is that the tough talk–on radical Islam, on immigration, on ISIS, etc.–is what worked. So he’s in a bit of a bind now. He may want to back away from some of his more colorful comments (he may need to once the Clinton campaign ad blitz gets going) but he can’t do so too openly without turning off some of the people who support him because of that rhetoric.