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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Trump On Muslims, Presidential Candidates On Terrorism

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

To talk some more about politics and other news of the week, we are joined now by Leslie Sanchez, a political analyst whose latest book is called "Los Republicanos," and Pilar Marrero, a columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion. There are both with me here at NPR West. Nice to have both of you.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Thank you.

PILAR MARRERO: Hello, thank you for having us.

MCEVERS: And as we just heard, you know, what presidential candidates say are having a pretty big influence on the way people think. I mean, Donald Trump has made no secret about wanting to keep Hispanic immigrants out of this country and now Muslims, too. Why is this resonating with people, Leslie?

SANCHEZ: The big thing you have to say with Donald Trump is he's doing something that's been done through - historically in elections, and he's exploiting fear. And this is a global phenomenon. It's not just in the United States. Unfortunately, it's absolutely the wrong course of action. He's exploiting ethnic, racial fear, ethnic, racial tensions. He did it with Hispanic-Americans. You talked about that - particularly Mexicans coming across the border. He's done it with, now, the Arab community. He continues to insult. You know, this is kind of, like, the flavor of the month. But what's unfortunate about the whole thing are the ramifications it's having down-ballot and within the party structure itself. If you're - I'm in the field constantly interviewing a lot of swing voters, a lot of Republican Party voters. And you're seeing they don't want anything to do with that type of rhetoric. And swing voters that are really kind of on the fence are going to vote for a candidate, not the party - tends to be the case when they're making that decision in the ballot box. But this changes that dynamic. This really forces the party ID and the party label to be that pall over the whole election.

MCEVERS: There's a new poll out that actually looks at that fear, right? It's a New York Times/CBS poll - shows that 79 percent of Americans think a terrorist attack is somewhat or very likely in the next few months. I mean, that's the highest since in the month after 9/11. It also shows a spike in the number of Americans saying terrorism is the most important problem in the country - 4 percent last month, now 19. I mean, is this rhetoric coming out of the campaign - Pilar, do you agree that this rhetoric is fueling that fear?

MARRERO: Well, the attacks that happened in Paris and San Bernardino, in part, are fueling this fear, but also the rhetoric in the campaign about the fact that, supposedly, we are not doing anything about ISIS, when ISIS has been around for a while. It has been strong for the last two years, at least. It has been committing attacks in different places. And the government has been doing something about it. Whether it's the right thing or whether there's a new strategy that needs to come in, that's a different story. But the rhetoric coming from the Republican campaign is that Obama has done nothing at all. And the reality is that is - that is not true. So it's a little bit of irrational fear going on in people, which is normal, natural human reaction.

MCEVERS: Leslie?

SANCHEZ: I think - the part I disagree with that - and I do believe that many Americans, and certainly those on the right, feel that the president has had a failed approach in dealing with ISIS, that there has not been a cohesive strategy. And this creates an opportunity for Islamic Jihadists to take advantage of vulnerabilities. I think more than anything, Americans want leadership on this issue, a commanding presence, a commanding strategy. You've seen some from other candidates who don't get nearly the air time - whether it be Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz - talking about - especially Jeb Bush - talking about a very reasonable, global, collaborative approach to deal with this issue in a serious manner. That's what I think people are looking for in terms of leadership from the president. So it's a good opportunity for Republicans to show a contrast, but it is still billed on the fact that national security, especially right now in the seasonal time when people are coming together with families, it's top of mind at the dinner table. And it will continue to be through the election.

MARRERO: There's a lot of politics going on here. And it is because we are in a campaign. But, you know, this is a much more complicated issue than the president didn't have a strategy. The president had a strategy. The Republicans were in on the strategy of sending weapons to the rebels in Syria, weapons that ended up in the hands of ISIS. So it's more complicated than we are the good guys, and those are the bad guys, and we're just going to go and destroy them, which is the rhetoric that a lot of candidates are having.

MCEVERS: Let's talk now about some comments that were made this week by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during arguments over the University of Texas affirmative-action case. Let's listen to what he said.

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ANTONIN SCALIA: There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less - a slower-track school where they do well.

MCEVERS: Leslie, what's he talking about here?

SANCHEZ: I can't speak for directly what he's saying. I think it's a painful statement to hear. It was really difficult to hear. Is he talking about - I'm really kind of curios when he's talking about a lesser or slower. There is empirical evidence that Latino and African-American students need stronger support infrastructure to be academically qualified to do well. There's the same evidence that shows that minorities do extraordinarily well at institutions of higher education when the support system's there, when those academic institutions make a strong effort, so you can't deny that. So is he saying, you know, that those support systems need to be there so that all students can take advantage of it and robust, you know, academically, or is he saying, I'm pointing to historically black colleges and universities? What exact - or community colleges. Is he saying, you know, different students have different needs? Sure, we can all agree with that. But to kind of blanket it loses maybe the bigger point, which is it's this part of this older argument, this arcane argument that minority students are mismatched when they go to some higher-end institutions. And that is really proven not to be the case.

MCEVERS: I mean, people were pretty outraged by these comments. I mean, you know, you've got a Supreme Court justice now the topic of conversation on Facebook feeds. Is this the new normal for justices now, Pilar?

MARRERO: Well, it's normal for Scalia (laughter). I mean, this guy has said outrageous things in the past. I don't think we should be surprised about it. I totally agree with what Leslie said. It came across as saying African-American people are stupid, pretty much. And we have to put them in place where they can - you know, they're slower-paced and they can - when, in fact, the reality is, yes, they need support because they come from disadvantage, right - the same for Latinos. But he seemed to be saying that they don't do as well in colleges and universities that are too good for them in a way. So it's very - it's a very sad statement.

MCEVERS: That's Pilar Marrero, who's a columnist for La Opinion, and Leslie Sanchez, who's a political analyst. Her latest book is "Los Republicanos." Thank you both so much.

MARRERO: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.