Donald Trump appears to have crossed a line.
From the beginning of his campaign, the billionaire showman has demonstrated a knack for winning the spotlight with incredible boasting and a penchant for lobbing incendiary rhetorical bombs. But in the last week, Trump seems to have outdone himself with his penchant for controversy, and the Republican Party is worried about it.
Earlier this week, the Republican presidential front-runner embarked on a 96-hour-long tour de force of racially charged statements. He retweeted false statistics about black-on-white crime that seem to have originated from a neo-Nazi Twitter account. He defended the idea that Muslim Americans could be registered in special databases, even as reporters asked him to distinguish between his proposal and Nazi registration of Jews in Germany. He insisted that there were large crowds of Muslims in New Jersey cheering as the World Trade Centers collapsed on 9/11, a claim that has not been corroborated by any serious source. And when a peaceful Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies was assaulted by Trump's supporters, he condoned the act by saying, "Maybe he should have been roughed up."
Trump is no stranger to exploiting racial tensions and tapping into white nationalist sentiment — both serve as the very foundation for his candidacy. But, over the past several weeks, he's been so unabashedly confrontational that some members of the Republican establishment are making a new concerted effort to portray Trump as having gone off the deep end. Whether or not they agree with some of his points, it's clear that Republicans are concerned about the party's public image in the the general election and feel the need to not only take Trump down as a nominee, but distance the entire party from many of his views.
Toward that end, a number of Republicans have decided to ramp up the attacks dramatically: They're characterizing him as an out-and-out fascist.
The F-word: CNN's MJ Lee has a useful round-up of Republicans who are deciding to unite around the "fascist" label. As she points out, a number of prominent voices in the Republican race have decided it's an appropriate way to characterize Trump's rhetoric.
One is Max Boot, an adviser to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who tweeted that Trump deserved the label:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's national security adviser John Noonan thinks the Muslim database isn't just a precursor to a Nazi-like regime, but actually a plain element of one:
Steve Deace, a radio show host in Iowa who has endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz in the primaries, said Trump was guilty of fostering "creeping fascism":
The very introduction of the "fascist" label by some Republicans is remarkable. But it isn't a sophisticated appraisal of Trump's theory of change as much as an attempt to absolutely repudiate some of his most controversial rhetoric and to draw a line in the sand in what the party should be able to say about Muslims.
The line might be boldly drawn, but it's not enough to stem the party's problem with alienating the Muslim community. Bush and Cruz have called for a religion test for Syrian refugees and for prioritizing or exclusively taking in Christians fleeing the war-torn region. Sen. Rand Paul has called for denying visas to people from countries with active jihadist movements and barring refugees from 34 countries — including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran — from housing benefits. Republican governors across the nation have said that Syrian migrants are not welcome in their states.
Will claims of Trump being a fascist bring him down in the polls? It could hurt. But so far the man has virtually defied every law of politics that forecasters have expected to take him down for months. The reality is that it's not just Trump that feels this way about Muslims, it's quite a bit of America.