Could Republicans Be Alienating Their Base With Refugee Ban Comments? November 19, 2015

Could Republicans Be Alienating Their Base With Refugee Ban Comments?

It wasn’t all that surprising when Republican Presidential candidates took advantage of the Paris attacks to try to shore up their national security credentials. In theory, it wasn’t a terrible plan, strategically speaking. After all, their base actually believed Trump when he said undocumented immigrants from Mexico included many rapists and drug dealers. Xenophobia is sort of their thing.

But it seems that even their conservative base has its limits. While Republicans bank on the fact that they’ll get the evangelical vote, some Christian leaders see that vote as uncertain now. As Politico reports:

Faith-based groups, who play a key role in resettling refugees to the United States, say they are dismayed by the wave of anti-refugee fervor set off by the Paris terrorist attacks and are urging supporters to contact elected officials on behalf of victims of the Syrian civil war.

A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees “does not reflect what we’ve been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country,” said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps resettle refugees. “Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris … doesn’t reflect who refugees are.”

For Republican presidential contenders such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who have been working hard at shoring up evangelical support in a crowded field, harsh words against refugees carries a risk of looking politically opportunistic instead of compassionate. Some advocates were particularly shocked when Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, said that the U.S. should bar Syrian orphaned toddlers if necessary.

“That was offensive. That was mean-spirited,” said one advocate with a Christian group that resettles refugees. He added: “it’s disappointing because there have been Republican senators and presidents who have strongly supported this program over the years. There’s a proud tradition in the Republican Party of welcoming those who are fleeing persecution, and this takes the party in a negative direction. It’s easy to pick on vulnerable refugees who have no voice. But there are immigrant groups who have voting power that understand what is going on. They understand that it’s an anti-immigrant message.”

It might inspire hope to see Christian leadership making these comments, but before you get too comfortable, remember that relatively progressive Christian leadership may not reflect Christians as a whole. If polling data is any indication, it really isn’t. The Pew Research Center found that nearly 70% of white evangelicals disapproved of Obama’s decision to raise the number of refugees allowed into the country, and those numbers are consistent with the expressed sentiments of the Republican base in general.

More unsettling? It’s pretty close to being in line with half the nation’s opinion. The Washington Post reported:

The last time Bloomberg News did a national poll to determine the issues most important to Americans was in September. The main worry then was what it has been for a long time: unemployment and jobs. The second-most important issue was stagnant wage growth. Pocketbook issues.

On Wednesday, a new poll conducted by Bloomberg after the terror attacks last Friday in Paris that killed 129 people. And in the new poll, new concerns.

That’s a 10-point increase in the percentage of people worried about the Islamic State and a 7-point increase in the percentage of people most worried about terrorism. Unemployment and jobs? Sank.

The most politically powerful data point in the new poll, though, is the one dealing with the possibility of Syrian refugees being re-settled in the United States. More than half of Americans oppose the existing plan to allow 10,000 refugees to enter the country — with nearly 70 percent of Republicans holding that position.

So much for all that hope. The silver lining here is that, for all the bluster of governors and Congress (and a Democratic mayor who thinks we should replicate Japanese internment), President Obama‘s got the final say on this one. Thankfully, he’s not listening to the heartless.

(Image via Albert H. Teich /

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