Republican Candidates Wrestle With Islam and the Presidency

Donald J. Trump on Thursday in Rochester, N.H., where his answer to a question set off a storm. (Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times)
Donald J. Trump on Thursday in Rochester, N.H., where his answer to a question set off a storm. (Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times)

Faith and politics intersected on Sunday when discussions of how Donald J. Trump handled a question about President Obama’s religion evolved into an awkward debate over whether a Muslim could ever be commander in chief.

Several Republican presidential candidates offered halting responses to the question when it was posed to them on Sunday talk shows, highlighting the difficulty the party faces in attracting new constituencies while appealing to its core supporters. The dynamic also underscores the challenge Mr. Trump has brought to the campaign by igniting controversies that other candidates must address.

The issue was stirred last week when Mr. Trump did not correct an attendee at a rally in New Hampshire who asserted that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.

In response to criticism in the subsequent days, Mr. Trump, who spearheaded the “birther” movement to investigate Mr. Obama’s nationality, said it was not his job to defend the president.

But should being a Muslim matter at all?

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Trump said he could envision a day when a Muslim was president, but he would not say how comfortable he was with the idea. However, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has been running close with Mr. Trump in several polls, was explicit in his opposition to a Muslim being president.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Mr. Carson said on the same program. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Mr. Carson went on to explain that he thinks Islam is not “consistent” with the Constitution. He did allow that he might support a Muslim as a member of Congress in certain cases.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations repudiated Mr. Carson’s remarks as anti-American and antithetical to the Constitution, which does not allow religion to be a qualification for those seeking elected office. The Muslim civil rights group called on Mr. Carson to withdraw from the race.

The subject quickly became a new and uncomfortable test for Mr. Carson’s other rivals for the Republican nomination.

When asked if a president’s faith should matter, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio said, “I don’t know about that.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said the question should be more about policy than religion, but he suggested that the idea of a Muslim president would be difficult.

“I try to see that as a separate thing, someone’s religion,” Mr. Paul said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I just think it’s hard for us. We were attacked by people who were all Muslim.”

 

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Alan Rappeport

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