If you want to understand the exquisite dilemma Republican leaders not named Donald Trump are in right now, look no further than the new online Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies survey that asked Americans about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country temporarily. It showed likely Republican primary voters favoring it by a 65–22 margin (with 13 percent saying they don’t know). But among likely general-election voters, opposition to the proposal led by a 50–37 margin (again, 13 percent didn’t know).
This is a classic situation where politicians need to choose between the views of the party base and those of general-election swing voters on a highly emotional issue that probably isn’t going to go away. Indeed, if international reaction to Trump’s “idea” continues to grow louder and angrier, we can expect that to strengthen antipathy to the entry-ban concept among general-election voters, while GOP base voters, steeped recently in American-exceptionalism rhetoric, may not budge or could even become more defiantly attached to Trump’s style of nationalist “strength.” It’s a tough problem for GOP leaders, who already have to figure out how to stop Trump from winning the nomination without pushing him into an independent run.