Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, an outspoken military leader decorated in the Gulf War, has advised Trump to give up the phrase, which Trump and other Republican leaders continue to use despite warnings from experts that it may do more harm than good.
The phrase is widely viewed as a dog whistle, as the religion of non-Muslim terrorists rarely gets raised. Those who use it often do so because, they say, it would be “politically correct” not to, indicating the phrase itself is now so politicized that it has little to do with isolating a violent, fringe element of a religion practiced by 1.6 billion predominately peaceful people.
But despite being warned by terrorism experts that the phrase actually plays into a narrative desired by groups like the so-called “Islamic State,” Trump and other GOP leaders have latched onto the phrase, repeating it seemingly as often as they can, and with great enthusiasm. In many ways, it was Obama’s choice not to say it that made it uniquely popular among Republicans: It became a go-to phrase used to paint Obama as weak on national security and not straightforward with the American people about the threat of terrorism.
During the campaign, Trump was not always explicit about how it was the “radical” Muslims the U.S. would target—such as when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Politico has framed the advice offered by McMaster as a way to measure his sway over the president: “What the president decides to say from the House floor will be an early indication of McMaster’s clout within the administration,” the publication says, referring to Trump’s speech before Congress on Tuesday night.