Can 'Mosque' Debate Usher GOP to Victory?

Pundits weigh the merits of running against the Cordoba House

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Republican resistance to the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero has been uniform and, at times, fiercely uncompromising. Obama's recent non-committal statement seemingly in favor of the Cordoba house only cemented the issue in the minds of GOP congressional hopefuls: why not actively campaign against it? With nearly 70 percent of Americans opposing the potential mosque, it appears to be a winning issue.

As though in answer to this question, Time's Mark Halperin wrote an open letter to Republicans urging them to rethink politicizing the sensitive issue on a national stage before the November elections. His reasoning hinges on two points: Republicans will probably make sweeping gains in Congress regardless of whether or not they step up their attacks on the mosque, and that an ugly debate "will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner — the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy."

Needless to say, Halperin's piece inspired a flurry of opinions on whether or not the GOP should exploit this issue to pick up seats in the midterms. Here's how pundits have been reacting:

  • Halperin's Advice Is Predicated on Decency (Which May Not Exist) observes Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. Asking Republican's to "look past the short-term gratification that demagoguery offers" is a worthy ideal, but "I would very much like to think this is still possible, but the party has offered no credible reason to believe it has the necessary strength of character." Campaigning against the mosque may unfortunately serve to sharpen the "vague" but economically focused agenda that the GOP has been running on.
  • This Is Why I Miss Bush writes Michael Cohen at AOL News, echoing a surprising refrain among pundits since the contentious debate began. "Without the steadying hand of a leader like Bush to hold back the floodgates of anti-Islamic rhetoric, Republicans have descended into the sort of political scapegoating of Islam that the country has largely avoided for the past nine years."
  • Which Republican Will Be the First to Denounce the Idea? wonders Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "Many of the 2012 potential GOP presidential hopefuls have already gone down this road. A House GOP official told Mike Allen that the party would be using Obama's speech to make the case that he's insensitive to 9/11 victims and 'out of touch.'" If the GOP does go through with the strategy, it "strays perilously close to stoking anti-Muslim bigotry and religious intolerance in the quest for electoral gain."
  • We're a Better Nation Than This, argues Brent Budowsky at The Hill, who's sickened by the conservative backlash to the Ground Zero proposal. "I call on all principled conservatives and Republicans, a majority of whom agree with what I write here, to stand with Reagan and Goldwater, with Buckley and Bush, with Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, and denounce this politics of appealing to hate and bigotry and fear."
  • Get Ready for a Campaign Filled With Veiled Appeals to Religious Bigotry concedes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. "The sad truth of the matter, of course, is that the GOP is probably going to benefit from taking this position...At least over the short term, you can expect every major candidate for office to be asked their opinion on this issue. That, to some degree, is the consequence of President Obama’s decision to speak out..."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.