How the GOP is betraying America

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Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: Paul Nehlen, Paul Ryan challenger and a Trump supporter, said he'd consider deporting Muslims from U.S.
  • Trump has promoted such anti-Muslim sentiments in U.S.; helped GOP break faith with proud American values, he says
  • Obeidallah: Gingrich, Jindal others have voiced similar bigotry; GOP must purge prejudice or become party of hate

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's weekly program "The Dean Obeidallah Show," a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Some were shocked when Republican candidate Paul Nehlen declared this week that we need to consider deporting all Muslims from America, even ones born in the United States, like myself.

I was not surprised.
    Nehlen, a businessman running for Congress, was simply taking Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric to its logical next step. (Trump, for his part, has praised Nehlen for running "a very good campaign.")
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    On Thursday, Nehlen told a reporter that Islam "encourages lying." He said of Muslims: "If they lie, how do you, how do you vet something like that." (We'll leave aside the irony of such a statement coming from a supporter of Trump, who makes things up daily.)
    In reality, like the other two Abrahamic faiths, Islam cherishes truthfulness and honesty.
    Nehlen continued, with a comment that any Nazi would have been comfortable making about Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany: "The question is, why do we have Muslims in the country?"
    The reporter, stunned, followed up asking, "So are you suggesting that we deport all of the Muslims in the country?" Nehlen: "I'm suggesting we have a discussion about it, that's for sure."
    Let's pause to think about this. However Nehlen's congressional race turns out, Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political persuasions should reflect -- with alarm -- on the anti-American U-turn our national conversation has taken.
    When GOP candidates like Nehlen, encouraged by Trump statements cynically peddled to stoke fear in our proud nation, feel free to not only say bigoted things, but to put them out front in their campaigns, we can clearly see that Republicans have crossed a bridge. They have broken faith with the values that built the United States.
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    Nehlen, for those unfamiliar, is House Speaker Paul Ryan's opponent in next Tuesday's GOP primary in Wisconsin. Sarah Palin and the hate monger Ann Coulter have already endorsed the first-time candidate. Trump, however, on Friday endorsed Ryan.
    Nehlen's words are plainly despicable and un-American, but this is where the GOP has been heading for years. True, it would be unconstitutional to ban Islam and deport American Muslims en masse (there are 3.3 million Muslims in America), but Republican politicians know such a proposal will play well the bigots in their base.
    After all, look what it's done for Donald Trump.
    It's nothing new for Republicans, in any case. During the 2012 presidential race, then-candidates Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain took anti-Muslim bigotry out of the shadows with claims that Muslim Americans want to impose Islamic law, despite zero evidence to support the claim, which is in fact false.
    The door was now open: In 2014, GOP Oklahoma state Rep. John Bennett declared that the goal of Islam is "the destruction of Western civilization from within," adding that Islam is a "cancer that must be cut out of the American society."
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    Repellent, yes, but what followed next was even more jaw-dropping. Bennett not only refused to retract his hateful words, the Oklahoma GOP state chair publicly defended him. Bennett received a standing ovation from supporters at his next event.
    Muslim bashing burrowed further into the mainstream when in 2015, presidential candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal claimed that American Muslims were planning to establish "no go zones" governed by Islamic law where non-Muslims would be banned from entering.
    Presidential candidate Ben Carson later upped the anti-Muslim rhetoric by declaring that a Muslim should not be permitted to serve as president of our country. In response, Carson saw a spike in campaign donations.
    It was a short hop, then, to Trump and his infamous Muslim ban.
    Now if Trump's campaign had floundered after that proposal, would Nehlen have risked raising the notion of deporting Muslims? We can't know because far from drawing widespread derision after his anti-Muslim pronouncement, Trump's popularity within the GOP skyrocketed and exit polls in various GOP primaries found that almost two-thirds of Republican voters agreed with his proposal.
    The message was clear: Demonizing Muslims sells.
    Nehlen, a man who defended Trump's attack on the Gold Star parents of the Capt. Humayun Khan -- an American soldier killed in Iraq while heroically protecting troops -- is unlikely to win the primary against Ryan.
    That's a win for the country, relatively speaking. But the bigotry within the GOP was not created by Trump or by Nehlen. It has been cultivated over the years, nurtured on a rancid diet of anti-Muslim, anti-American fare served up from the likes of Fox News, Breitbart.com and professional anti-Muslim activists like Frank Gaffney and Pam Geller.
    That means, sadly, we can expect to see more of this hate from Republican candidates in the future. That is unless the GOP actively purges itself of prejudice after this election (assuming Trump loses.)
    Only then will the GOP return to being the party of Lincoln instead of being the party of hate.