As Donald Trump blanketed the airwaves defending his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, he frequently stumbled when asked for concrete details of how such a ban would work.
How, for instance, would customs officials identify people as Muslim? Just ask them, Trump said.
Would the ban apply to U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. from abroad? At first his campaign said yes, it would. But Trump himself later seemed to indicate it would not.
Would there by any other exceptions? That appeared to be a work in progress, with Trump exempting certain subcategories of Muslims as interviewers pressed him.
The shoot-from-the-hip-first-and-ask-questions-later approach was typical Trump. Leaders lead. Details are for pedants. But it was particularly discordant as most of the political world recoiled over Trump’s most xenophobic pander yet.
The first big issue: How would you identify Muslims and where would they be interdicted?
MSNBC’s Willie Geist asked Trump Tuesday if he would question individuals before they reached the United States or after they have arrived in the country.
“It could happen at the site, it could happen here, it could happen in many different forms, Willie. That would have to be worked out,” Trump replied.
Geist pressed Trump and asked if a U.S. customs agent would ask people to state their religion. The presidential candidate then suggested that customs ask travelers if they are Muslim and turn them away if they answer “yes.”
Over the course of multiple interviews with various networks Monday night and Tuesday morning, Trump began to reveal in a piecemeal basis who would be exempt from his ban on Muslims.
The real estate mogul told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that Muslims already living in the U.S. would not be subject to the ban and that Muslim members of the military currently overseas would be able to return home.
And during a Tuesday morning interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Trump said that American citizens living abroad would be allowed to return to the U.S. as well.
“If a person is a Muslim, goes overseas and comes back, they can come back. They’re a citizen. That’s different,” Trump told ABC. “But we have to figure things out.”
That was in contrast to what the Trump campaign said Monday night. When asked by The Hill if Trump’s proposal would apply to American Muslims currently abroad, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email, “‘Mr. Trump says, ‘everyone.'” And when CNN asked Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, if the ban applied to Muslim tourists as well as those looking to immigrate to the U.S., Lewandowski replied, “Everyone.”
When asked about these inconsistencies on MSNBC Monday morning, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said that it had been clear from the start that Trump’s proposed ban would only apply to Muslims who are not already American citizens.
“I think if you look at the statement and the statement that he read last night, the topic of the whole thing was Muslim immigration. My colleague said it applied to everyone who’s immigrating. The media has this statement with the context of immigration,” Pierson said. “So both Donald Trump and my colleague were right, it applies to everyone who is immigrating and the last time I checked, U.S. citizens and military people serving in overseas don’t come back home through immigration.”
Trump also offered a few more exemptions during a lengthy interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday morning.
When asked by MSNBC’s Geist how he would implement his plan at the border, Trump suggested he would exempt athletes from his ban.
“There’s certainly going to be exceptions made, like for instance, sporting events and other things,” Trump said.
And when asked by “Morning Joe” regular Nicole Wallace if he would allow Muslim world leaders to travel to the U.S., Trump said he would.
“So you’d waive the ban for the leaders of Middle Eastern countries?” Wallace asked.
“Of course I would, yes,” Trump responded.
The real estate mogul also struggled to lay out exactly how long he would implement the ban on Muslims traveling to the U.S. and how he would keep them from entering the country.
In the statement he released on Monday, Trump called for the U.S. to ban Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” When asked by MSNBC’s Geist how he would know it was time to lift the ban, Trump said, “All it can be is a feel or a touch.” He later added that he hoped it “wouldn’t take very long” for him to lift the ban.