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After Paris Attacks, Security Dominates Conversation — And Campaigns

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The debate over security is also dominating U.S. politics this weekend. Republican voters, according to the polls, at least, are saying they like the tough talk they are hearing from Donald Trump, even as he continues to make statements about Muslims and immigration that others find deeply offensive. Joining us here in our studios to talk about that is NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So of course, after this recent wave of terrorist attacks overseas, presidential candidates are weighing in on what the U.S. should be doing. And Donald Trump has been making some statements such as talking about creating a database of Muslims and arguing for surveillance of mosques. And then Trump said this at a rally yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.

MARTIN: Now, he was asked about this on ABC News' "This Week" program this morning. He said he was referring to New Jersey's, quote, "large Arab populations." So I have two questions for you. First, is this true? Did this actually happen? And secondly, what are people saying about this?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, there's no evidence that there were Muslim-Americans in New Jersey who were out in the streets celebrating. There's a large population of Muslim-Americans in Paterson, N.J., which is some, you know, 10 miles away or so from Jersey City, and there was no evidence at the time. There was an Internet rumor that there were Muslims out in the street. Police in Paterson have said that that was not true. It's just not the case. Now, Republicans on - who are running...

MARTIN: Trump says - did he say he saw this on television, or he actually was in Jersey City? Or...

MONTANARO: Well, so it appeared that he said that he saw it. He was not in Jersey City, and he later clarified that he'd seen it on TV. But he may be conflating that with Palestinians in the West Bank, who we'd seen on TV out in the streets celebrating. Republicans have - who are running against Trump have said that Trump's rhetoric goes too far, although we've seen no signs of it hurting Trump at this point.

MARTIN: Well, to that end though, it seems as though Republican voters are still drawn to him. An ABC News-Washington Post poll out today asked GOP voters who they trust to deal with terrorism; and Trump beat everybody, with 40 percent of Republicans picking him in that poll - other candidates barely picking up 10 percent of the vote on that issue. Does this kind of reorder the conventional wisdom about an issue like this, where generally, you know, one thinks that experience generally trumps other things - trumps other things...

MONTANARO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...When it comes to questions like national security?

MONTANARO: Well, it should've probably reordered the conventional wisdom some time ago because his questions of bomb the expletive out of them, you know, and other bombastic rhetoric have certainly not hurt him in the polls. And there's a chunk of the Republican primary electorate that likes what they hear from Donald Trump, and that's what's fueling his candidacy.

MARTIN: So let's switch over to the other side of the aisle. The Democrats scored a victory last night in Louisiana. A state rep named John Bel Edwards defeated GOP Sen. David Vitter. They were both vying to replace Bobby Jindal as governor. And this is the first time a Democrat has won a new statewide office for years in the Deep South, certainly since Barack Obama took office. What explains that?

MONTANARO: Well, this is a case of skeletons kind of coming back to haunt somebody. Let's take a listen to part of an ad that ran against David Vitter.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots. Now the choice is yours.

MONTANARO: Now that ad, as shadowy as it sounds, did not come from some anonymous superPAC. It actually came from John Bel Edwards himself. Republicans who ran against Vitter in the primary laid the groundwork for this, and John Bel Edwards pushed it through in the final couple of weeks. And we know that Edwards himself is somebody who can appeal to the broader electorate of the Louisianans and promises though to expand Medicaid, which could help up to 200,000 more Louisianans.

MARTIN: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.

MONTANARO: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.