John Kasich slammed Trump's “outrageous divisiveness,” while a more measured Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has always been cautious about upsetting Trump's supporters, said, “Well, that is not my policy.” On Tuesday, he went further by stating that he commended Trump for standing up and focusing on securing borders.
“Everyone visiting our country should register and be monitored during their stay as is done in many countries,” said Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and GOP candidate for president. “I do not and would not advocate being selective on one's religion.” By Tuesday, Carson had revised his position, agreeing with CNN host Jake Tapper when questioned about the practicality of monitoring foreign visitors. "We can't do that," Carson said. "That would be ridiculous."
Dick Cheney, the former vice president said, “Religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. … It's a mistaken notion."
Trump's comments Monday came as his lead in preference polls in Iowa, the state that kicks off the nominating contest, appeared to be challenged by Cruz. If Trump's goal was to shift focus away from Cruz and back onto his candidacy, he no doubt succeeded.
Trump's comments seem aimed squarely at Republican primary voters wary of Muslims, particularly those with direct ties to countries in the Middle East that have spawned violent extremist groups.
A 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed Republicans view Muslims more negatively than they do any other religious group, and significantly worse than do Democrats.
The Islamophobic card is one Trump's rivals have been willing to play.
In September, Carson said he did not believe a Muslim should serve as president of the United States. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” Carson said in an interview with NBC's “Meet The Press.”
After the recents attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded, GOP candidates rallied to the idea of blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
Cruz proposed legislation banning Syrian Muslims from coming to the U.S. Bush said American assistance to Syrian refugees should focus primarily on Christians. And Carson compared handling refugees fleeing Syria's intractable civil war to dealing with “rabid dogs.”
Republican governors balked at having Syrian refugees resettled in their states.
The pile-on became so charged, President Barack Obama lashed out at the Republicans, deeming their words offensive and insisting “it needs to stop.”
On Wednesday, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Trump's proposed ban would apply to “everybody,” including Muslims seeking immigration visas as well as tourists seeking to enter the country.
He did not respond to questions about whether it would also include Muslims who are U.S. citizens and travel outside of the country, or how a determination of someone's religion might be made by customs and border officials.
In response to a request for additional detail, Trump said via a campaign spokeswoman: “Because I am so politically correct, I would never be the one to say. You figure it out!”
Trump's proposal comes a day after Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office about the shootings in San Bernardino, California, which Obama said was “an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”
The FBI said Monday the Muslim couple who carried out the massacre had been radicalized and had taken target practice at area gun ranges, in one case within days of the attack last week that killed 14 people.
From the Democratic presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders said: “Trump and others want us to hate all Muslims. The United States is a great nation when we stand together. We are a weak nation when we allow racism and xenophobia to divide us.”
Al Jazeera and wire services