Trump's contentious views blasted but he won't relent

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump got loud cheers during his speech at a rally in Ohio on Monday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump got loud cheers during his speech at a rally in Ohio on Monday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Republican candidate says his stance on controversial topics will instead help him

WASHINGTON • He is under attack by Republican rivals and critics for comments about monitoring Muslims and the response to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, but United States presidential hopeful Donald Trump is not backing down.

Instead, in Ohio on Monday, he argued that the renewed focus on terrorism and immigration follo-wing the Nov 13 attacks in France will only make him stronger.

And the Paris attacks appear to have helped him recover from the risk of falling into second place in the Republican race, spurring close rival, Dr Ben Carson, into equally strong language - he last week likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

Hours later - after the House of Representatives passed a motion last Thursday to suspend plans to admit 10,000 Syrians to the US next year - Mr Trump was asked if he would consider registering Muslims in a database or giving them special identification.

"We are going to have to - we are going to have to look at a lot of things very closely," he told NBC News. "We are going to have to look at the mosques."

Muslim groups said they were shocked, several likening the idea to the branding and forced identification of European Jews that paved the way to the Holocaust.

Yet, Mr Trump says that while rivals criticise his lack of experience and have speculated that his reaction to the Paris attacks would diminish him as a candidate, his stance on stopping illegal immigration, rejecting Syrian refugees and keeping watch lists of suspected Islamist terrorists will help him rise in the polls. And his audiences seem to like what they hear.

"Security and border and walls and you have to come into the country legally has morphed into ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) because basically we want to keep that crap out of here," Mr Trump said before Monday's crowd, estimated at 14,000. "I am the guy to do it, and they know that."

In his Monday speech, he defended his comments about Muslims, though he avoided using the word "databases" and talked instead about "strong surveillance" and creating lists of Syrian refugees.

Mr Trump has had a tumultuous several days on the campaign trail. As well as the plan for tracking Muslims, he has claimed - without evidence - that he saw "thousands of people" in Jersey City cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept 11, 2001.

He repeated his past calls to stop "anchor babies", children born to undocumented immigrants who become American citizens, and led the crowd in chants of "build a wall". He also vowed to restore the outlawed practice of waterboarding terrorist suspects, which critics have deemed to be torture. "Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would," he said.

The crowd reacted with loud cheers to most of his lines about protecting the homeland, including when he said of the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people: "If some of those folks carried guns, you wouldn't have this."

"The next president needs to unify Americans, not divide them," Mr George Voinovich, a former Republican US senator and Ohio governor, who supports candidate John Kasich, said on Monday. "Donald Trump's rhetoric has been egomaniacal, inflammatory and divisive."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Trump's contentious views blasted but he won't relent'. Print Edition | Subscribe