Before there was Donald Trump calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” or Ben Carson declaring that Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution, there was Herman Cain. Yep, Cain was truly the godfather of utilizing anti-Muslim hate at the national level for political gain when he shot to the top of the Republican field in 2012. Somehow , that not-so-ancient history has hardly been mentioned as Cain has emerged as Trump’s reported pick for a seat on the board of the Federal Reserve.
Over the last few days we’ve been reminded frequently that Cain dropped out of the presidential race after four women bravely came forward to share how Cain had sexually harassed them. (Back then, Trump defended Cain as the victim of a “witch hunt," while smearing the female victims as liars who only wanted fame.
Before that “witch hunt,” Cain had shot to the top of the polls amidst a crusade of bigotry that began in March of 2011, when he told a reporter that there would be no place for a Muslim American in his administration. Why? In Cain’s view the goal of every Muslim is to impose Islamic law in our nation: "There is this creeping attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” Cain then baselessly added that there are Muslims in America who “try to force their Sharia law on the rest of us."
Days later Cain doubled down, telling Fox News’s Neil Cavuto that “many of the Muslims, they’re not totally dedicated to this country."
The dual-loyalty smear is one of the vilest tropes out there. To give you a sense of how stunning Cain’s remarks were, the national communications director for CAIR, Ibrahim Hooper responded to them at the time by stating, "Even post-9/11 you didn't have this level of mainstreaming of anti-Muslim hate.”
And it got worse from there. In June 2015, Cain told Glenn Beck he would only be open to having a Muslim in government if they first took a loyalty oath. A stunned Beck asked in response, “Are you saying that Muslims have to prove their… that there has to be some loyalty proof?” to which Cain responded, “Yes, to the Constitution of the United States of America.” Cain then rejected asking Mormons or Catholics to take such an oath because, he said, Islam inherently has a “greater dangerous part.”
A month later, Cain ratcheted up his anti-Muslim fearmongering by travelling down to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to meet with people opposed to a proposed mosque there in the midst of what was known as the Ground Zero mosque controversy that had spurred opposition to new mosques nationwide.
Cain, his poll numbers rising, went on Fox News after his visit to Murfreesboro to declare that he agreed with those opposing the mosque because in his view Islam was not akin to “our other traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes.” He hinted that the true goal of the mosque was something much more nefarious: "I happen to also know that it's not just about a religious mosque… There are other things going on based upon talking to the people closest to the problem.”
Of course, there was zero proof that the mosque was anything other than a place of worship. In fact, the mosque was built several years later and the only problems since have been from anti-Muslim bigots who have tried to vandalize and destroy it.
And then in November 2011, with Cain topping many of the polls for the GOP nomination, he proclaimed during an interview with GQ that “a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.” When pressed by the reporter if the GOP candidate meant Muslims worldwide or in our country, Cain responded, “America.”
There was a leading Republican candidate for president telling America that a majority of American Muslims were potential terrorists. Who knows where Cain would’ve taken his anti-Muslim crusade if he didn’t drop out a few weeks later? Perhaps he would’ve have beaten Trump to the call for a total Muslim ban.
Clearly Cain’s history doesn’t trouble Trump, who last week said about Cain, “I’ve told my folks that’s the man.” Of course he’s Trump’s “man”—after all Cain and Trump are cut from the same cloth with their common history of anti-Muslim bigotry and misconduct with women.
I wish I could say that Cain’s history of anti-Muslim hate would result in enough GOP Senators to reject him. But that’s not reality. After all, nearly two-thirds of 2016 GOP primary voters supported Trump’s proposed total ban on Muslims.