The Donald Trump campaign is working hard behind the scenes to reach out to Muslims and Middle Easterners, quietly trying to undo some of the damage done by his proposed “Muslim ban.”
Following the terror attack by radical Islamists in San Bernardino in December, Trump issued a statement calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” But last Wednesday, Trump walked back the “Muslim ban,” telling Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade that it was “just a suggestion.”
“It’s a temporary ban,” said Trump. “It hasn’t been called for yet. Nobody’s done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on.”
As Trump publicly gives himself some wiggle room on the “suggestion,” according to The Hill’s Jonathan Easley, Trump’s top national security adviser, Walid Phares, has been “courting prominent Muslim Republicans and conservative Middle Eastern activists in the U.S.” as part of a low-key outreach effort to those communities which involves “other top campaign officials.”
Though Phares underscored in a phone interview with The Hill that Trump had not directed him to reach out to the groups, he hoped that their communications would eventually lead to increased support for Trump among the largely skeptical voting bloc. Many of the discussions, said Phares, were initiated by Muslim Republicans or Middle Eastern conservatives seeking clarification on Trump’s positions.
“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,” said Phares. “These people know what they want – they’re concerned about the well-being of their communities and believe that Trump has the right economic and social agenda. But they’re trying to get a handle on how he’ll deal with the Middle East.”
Echoing Trump’s “suggestion” phrasing, Phares said, “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. He’ll continue to add context and distinction to his position as he gets new information.”
The ban, said Phares, should be understood not as a policy statement but rather as an indication of how seriously Trump takes national security and the threat of terrorism.
According to Phares, Trump is also planning a more public Muslim and Middle Eastern outreach effort that will include meetings with the groups and further refinement of his national security policy, including a commission on the threat of radical Islam headed by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
So far, Phares’ efforts appear to be making inroads, with some Muslims and Middle Easterners already on board. One example is Republican Muslim Coalition founder Saba Ahmed who now openly stumps for Trump. Regarding the Muslim ban, Ahmed dismisses it as nothing but campaign rhetoric.
“Something like that could never be enacted so I can ignore it,” she said. “He’s toned down his rhetoric lately and I’m focused more on the positive messages he has about the economy and balancing the budget and improving U.S. standing in the world.”
Though some progress among the groups appears to have been made, many conservative Muslims and Middle Easterners remain highly skeptical of Trump. One self-described “lifetime Republican and conservative,” American Islamic Forum for Democracy founder Zuhdi Jasser, told The Hill that Trump’s “scorched-earth” approach and “ends justify the means” mentality is something he simply cannot get behind.
Read Easley’s full report here.