Washington Week

Friday Nights on PBS

Donald Trump's Evolving Statements on Islam

By Joan Greve
Washington Week Fellow

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump came under fire again this weekend for criticizing the family of Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American Army captain who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004. Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, took the stage at the Democratic National Convention Thursday, where Khizr Khan addressed Trump directly, saying, “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy...You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

Trump quickly fired back on social media and during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, questioning if Ghazala Khan was allowed to speak and suggesting that the Clinton campaign wrote the remarks. The GOP nominee also took to Twitter after the Khans spoke to CNN Monday, writing, “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same - Nice!”

While the back-and-forth between Trump and the Gold Star family has captured the media’s attention, it is not the first time that the nominee’s opinions on Islam have created headlines. Here’s a look back at Trump’s evolving statements on the topic since the start of his presidential campaign:

December 7, 2015
Trump shook up the Republican primary, when, following the November terrorist attacks in Paris and December shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., he proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The plan was quickly denounced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, including by Trump’s now-running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Trump has updated the proposal in the months since.

March 10, 2016
The real estate mogul once again turned heads amidst the primary season when he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I think Islam hates us...There is a tremendous hatred, and we have to be very vigilant; we have to be very careful. And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.” When Cooper asked Trump to clarify whether he meant “radical Islam,” Trump responded, “It’s radical, but it’s very hard to define.” 

June 13, 2016
Trump has criticized President Barack Obama for avoiding the phrase “radical Islam” since at least November, when he tweeted, “When will President Obama issue the words RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM? He can't say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!” Trump resurrected the issue in June, after the Orlando terrorist attack, when he said in a speech, “Yet, Hillary Clinton – for months and despite so many attacks – repeatedly refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam,’ until I challenged her yesterday to say the words or leave the race.” The president responded to this criticism during a news conference, “[T]here is no magic to the phrase of ‘radical Islam.’ It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy...There has not been a moment in my 7.5 years as president where we have not able to pursue a strategy because we didn't use the label ‘radical Islam.’” The presidential rebuke has not been enough to stop Trump from returning to the issue, recently criticizing Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton again for not using the word during the DNC.

June 28, 2016
After clinching the Republican nomination, Trump chose to revise his December policy proposal on a Muslim immigration ban, when he told reporters in June that he would not be bothered by a Muslim from Scotland entering the country. Trump added that he would instead focus on “people coming from the terror states," and his campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson soon doubled down on the new approach, telling CNN, “It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, except for fact that the terrorist nations, which is something he is adding to this policy to make it more clear, that if you are coming from a hostile nation and you can not be vetted, absolutely you should not come into this country.” Trump has however shied away from labeling this change as a “rollback,” explaining to NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," "I actually don't think it's a rollback. In fact, you could say it's an expansion…I'm looking now at territory. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can't use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I'm OK with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim."

July 31, 2016
That oft-criticized history has led Trump to his current controversy regarding the Khan family, with Trump tweeting, “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!” Even prominent Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has previously avoided taking harsh stands against Trump, said in a statement, “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.” Despite the backlash, Hillary Clinton seemed doubtful that it would strongly affect the election when she told reporters Sunday, “I don’t know where the bottom is.