Debate over Mosque Near Ground Zero splits GOP

As top Republicans including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attack plans for an Islamic community center and mosque near the destroyed World Trade Center site, a larger schism is opening up in the GOP over the inflammatory issue.

Some Republicans fear that pressing the issue carries risks, diverting attention from bread-and-butter issues and undercutting the party's efforts to broaden its base — just as it is losing ground among other ethnic minorities such as Latinos.

"This is a distraction from a winning game plan," said Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who a decade ago worked with President George W. Bush and his political guru, Karl Rove, to cultivate Muslim American and Latino voters to try to build a more diverse and durable Republican majority. "It is very stupid, when Republicans are poised to win an overwhelming victory in November over Democratic spending, to focus attention on this issue."

Gingrich, in recent appearances, has compared construction of the mosque to placing Nazi signs near Holocaust memorials. Sarah Palin, former GOP vice presidential nominee, called the mosque project an "unnecessary provocation" in a Twitter message.

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: Doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland," read another message by Palin, who like Gingrich is a potential presidential aspirant with an eye on the party's conservative base.

Norquist, whose wife is Muslim, has emerged as the most outspoken foe of politicizing the mosque issue. But other Republicans — especially those focusing on the midterm election or in swing states — have taken similar stands.

"As it relates to religious buildings in the vicinity of ground zero, it's either all or nothing — churches, synagogues and mosques should be treated the same," Chris Gibson, a Republican running against a House incumbent in upstate New York, said on his Facebook page.

In New Jersey, GOP Gov. Chris Christie warned Tuesday against politicizing the mosque dispute and tarnishing "all of Islam" with fears of terrorism.

"What offends me the most about all this is that it's being used as a political football by both parties," Christie said.

The controversy has been rippling through the political world all summer. But the turbulence intensified sharply last week when President Obama defended the right of Muslims to build the center, later adding he was not advocating its placement near the Sept. 11 attack site.

In the days that followed, Democratic candidates were asked by Republican opponents whether they agreed with their president on the issue.

In a measure of how awkward many Democrats felt about Obama's statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a close Obama ally facing a tough reelection fight, distanced himself from the president in a statement saying that the mosque should be built elsewhere.

Republicans redoubled their efforts, with Boehner criticizing the president. "The decision to build this mosque so close to ground zero is deeply troubling, as is the president's decision to endorse it," the Ohio Republican said Saturday.

Gingrich argued that authorities had the right to bar the mosque construction because it was akin to the "Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor."

" Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington," Gingrich said Monday on Fox News. "There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Norquist attacked Gingrich and others for rhetoric that he believed gave a "get out of jail free" card to politically vulnerable Democrats.

"It is an opportunity for all big-spending Democrats like Reid to change the subject" in a close election year, Norquist said.

In response, Gingrich said in a statement that he favored religious liberty but that his "opposition to the ground zero mosque is principled and focused on the outrage of triumphalist radical Islamists choosing a deliberately provocative site."

He added: "As to politics, the American people are instinctively opposed to the ground zero mosque, by 68% to 29%. Why would taking the 68% side be a weakness?"

The controversy comes at a time when some Republicans also are concerned that their party's focus on illegal immigration — especially a new drive for a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to U.S.-born children of foreigners — could also undercut the GOP's long-term hopes of expanding its appeal to the nation's burgeoning Latino population.

"In the long term, there are reputational issues for the Republicans that could make it very tough to compete, particularly at the national level, given the changing demographics of the country," said Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush.

Gerson backed Obama's initial remarks on the topic, saying that a president had no other choice but to take a stand.

"I have spent time in the West Wing and know what it is like for a president who has Muslim citizens, has armed forces at his command and has Muslim soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who are fighting at our side against Islamic radicalism" to oppose construction of a mosque, Gerson said. "A president cannot say that a holy building serving people of this faith somehow desecrates Manhattan."

Bush has stayed out of the political dispute over the mosque. His spokesman, David Sherzer, said Tuesday that Bush would have no comment on the building plans. Less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington. "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," he said then. "Islam is peace."

A group of prominent Arab American and Muslim Republicans circulated a letter Tuesday to top party officials, expressing concern over the language Gingrich and other notables were using in the debate.

The signers included Norquist's wife, Samah, who served as an advisor in the George W. Bush administration; former Bush White House aide Suhail Khan; and Sherine El-Abd, president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women.

"While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America," they wrote.

janet.hook@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

Comments

Aman Shareef said…
There's been a lot of talk about how the Grand Old Party, better known as the GOP, is latching on to the Cordoba House debate. (I refuse to call it the "Ground Zero Mosque" because that is completely inaccurate. If anything, the Cordoba House is more akin to a YMCA than a mosque). It turns out that not all Republicans are on the same page concerning this issue.

As is the norm in American politics, important issues that will have a real impact on the country, get side-lined to make way for issues that government has no impact on at the end of the day. These issues are usually classified as "moral" issues.

I will give one example that brings light to the fact that these "moral" issues have no impact on this country:

The United States tax code is written to promote marriage and single-earner households. In short, it is a tax code that promotes the traditional nuclear household of a husband who works to earn money, and a wife who stays at home to care for the children and do other housework. How does the tax code do this? A married couple, who files joint tax returns, can earn the benefit of paying lower taxes. However, regardless of how much a married couple earns, if there is second earner in the household, it is automatically taxed at the highest tax bracket.

There are many couples who are in a financial position where both persons are forced to work. For many of these couples, it turns out that the taxes on the secondary income make it not worth it. This forces many households to live at a lower standard of living than their total earning potential.

No matter what your position on the traditional family structure, it cannot be denied that the tax code has had little to no effect on affecting the realities of the world we live in. The efforts to shape American society based on "morals" has been counter-productive.

I salute the members of the GOP who realize that the Cordoba House issue, regardless of one's personal feelings towards it, is one of little to no importance. Regardless of whether the community center is built or not, it will have little to no impact on the big issues that plague this country today. The slow recovery of the economy, our high reliance on fossil fuels, our outdated infrastructure, and the dangerously high deficit. Can we really afford to elect politicians based on the construction of one building, as opposed to the wisdom each politician holds in regards to the problems that affect us all?
PoPaT said…
I have read your posts on this issue and I can't fathom why there is an issue or what is the issue exactly.

If Americans think that making a Mosque near Ground Zero is a threat to their nation since Mosque starts with a 'M' and so does the Muslim; don't know why they don't hate McDonald's.

Anyways, if they think Islam is terrorism and thats why they don't want anything related to Islam near ground zero; I think they need education and I can understand why america is having an education crisis; Capitalism killing intellects.

If they can't understand Islam or have doubts about it then they should let Muslims make a Mosque near ground zero. After time they will know if terrorists are coming from there or not and if they believe that what if a terrorist jumps out from there and creates WTC and then destroys it again with his third eye then I think america is incompetent and their intel is as good as FOX news and security as good as wildebeest, who can't protect themselves from Lions, I mean seriously.

And if there is no one coming out of that place then I believe they will finally understand that religion has nothing to do with terrorism.

There is always a long history for all serious issues. It is their chance to remove the TAG "bigotry" from their shirts now.

Second point is that if there is such an issue then why people want to make s Mosque there? or if they back off from the issue now, all ready pointing fingers will be IN their face?

Pedantically speaking, I checked the Google street view[on iPhone] of the place where ground zero Mosque is about to be. I didn't find it near GZ and after sometime clicking next road and next turn, I sorta lost interest and closed the app.

Its the true test of destiny or destiny testing us? either way, we are the one's suffering not the universe and its cosmic energy.

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