Historians will record that for about half a decade, between the presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, Republicans tussled over whether to welcome anti-Muslim bigotry into their party. The response to Roy Moore’s nomination on Tuesday as the GOP’s Senate candidate in Alabama shows—even more clearly than Donald Trump’s election—that the fight is over. In today’s GOP, claiming that American Muslims don’t deserve equal rights has become so normal that prominent Republicans no longer object. They barely even notice.
To chart this moral descent, it’s worth starting in March 2011, when a reporter for ThinkProgress asked Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your Cabinet or as a federal judge?” Cain’s reply: “No, I will not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”
The response from GOP elites was scathing. “We recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” said presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney when asked about Cain’s comments. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance.” When Cain showed up to a breakfast hosted by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, several participants chastised him. Soon, Cain was insisting he had been misconstrued. By the summer, he had publicly apologized. “I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” he declared. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.” For good measure, he visited a mosque.