Can Donald Trump keep America safe?

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Story highlights

  • Critics claim Trump empowers ISIS by giving them propaganda for recruitment
  • But polls show that Republicans have confidence in Trump to address terror threat

(CNN) Is Donald Trump the best man to defend America against ISIS -- or the one the extremists would like to see in the White House?

"What Mr. Trump's saying about how to handle this war is empowering the enemy," said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of a dozen candidates trailing Trump in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Graham said that ISIS "loves Donald Trump because he is giving them an opportunity to bring people their way."
    It's a damning accusation that would seem to run against the views of millions of American voters. And this was before Trump sparked near-universal opprobrium with his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
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    A new New York Times/CBS News poll found that Republicans have more confidence in Trump to address terror than any other candidate. Seven in 10 voters said he was well equipped on the issue.
    The poll was conducted largely before Trump's latest comments, but straight after a mass murder in California by husband-and-wife killers who authorities have described as ISIS sympathisers.
    "I'm going to protect people," Trump said. "And that's why whenever there's a tragedy, everything goes up, my numbers go way up, because we have no strength in this country. We have weak, sad politicians."
    Even before his suggestion of a Muslim travel ban, Trump has been outspoken:
    -- expressing support for the creation of a government registry of Muslims in America
    -- accusing the Obama administration of planning to flood the country with Syrian refugees
    -- calling for the surveillance of mosques and potentially the closure of some of them
    Trump argues that the U.S. simply has to consider stronger new measures in order to protect itself from terrorism.
    "We have to stop the problem. We can talk about it. We can talk about it forever. But it's a real problem. It's called radical Islamic terrorism."
    But Trump also seems to question the loyalty of Muslim Americans who have never broken the law or posed any kind of threat. Trump told supporters that he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey during the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. No evidence has surfaced of any such event and a number of officials, from New Jersey's governor down, have denied its existence.
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    "Trump is trafficking in very dangerous and populist rhetoric: essentially if we build a wall, or keep them out or put them in a national registry, then ISIS will go away," said Michael Weiss, a CNN analyst who is co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."
    "Making this case, that it's the West versus Islam, is what ISIS is doing. So in a sense, Trump is underwriting their propaganda for them."
    Republicans are split in their reaction to Trump's remarks.
    Senator Graham, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and several other Republican candidates have denounced them.
    But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said there were no 9/11 celebrations in his state, has pointedly refused to condemn Trump.
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    "I've known Donald Trump for 13 years, I can disagree with him and I have. I don't believe he's hateful and I don't believe he's a bigot."
    The Republican candidates are preparing to debate for the first time since Trump urged the U.S. to keep Muslims out.
    CNN will televise two sessions - one for Trump and other leading candidates, another earlier gathering for the second tier of contenders - Tuesday evening in the U.S.
    The theme of the encounter is "Keeping America Safe."
    The threat Americans fear most is terrorism. And all eyes will, once again, be on Donald Trump.