Washington: Donald Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States is shoving the Republican Party to the edge of chaos, abruptly pitting party leaders against their own presidential front-runner and jeopardising their longtime drive to attract minorities.
Unbowed, Trump fired a searing warning yesterday via Twitter to fellow Republicans carping about his proposal. A majority of his supporters, he tweeted, would vote for him if he left the party and ran as an independent.
The crossfire between Trump and frustrated Republicans became a media blur the day after the billionaire businessman announced his plan.
Beleaguered 2016 rivals condemned his proposal and complained that his divisive positions were dominating attention in the crowded Republican contest. Party elders, meanwhile, warned that too much criticism might indeed push him to launch a third-party bid that could hand the presidential election to the Democrats.
And Republicans up for re-election in the Senate grew terse in the Capitol hallways as they were asked again and again to respond to Trump's remarks — a glimpse of their political futures if the former reality show star captures the Republican nomination.
"This is not conservatism," declared House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's top elected leader. "What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it's not what this country stands for."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry today said that Trump's rhetoric is complicating US diplomacy.
"I stay out of politics," he told reporters in Paris. "But on this one I have to say something because it involves my job, it involves our country."
He said that IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh, "is not Islam and there are courageous Muslims around the world in the Middle East and elsewhere standing up to it."
Kerry said that "what Mr Trump has said runs contrary" to US values of religious tolerance "and makes our job of reaching out to people and sharing America just that much more complicated and that much more difficult. And that's about as diplomatic as I can be about it."
One by one, Republican officials across the country lashed out at Trump's plan, which calls for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" to help quell the threat of terrorism.
But party leaders are well aware that he could leave the party, run as an independent and challenge the party's presidential nominee next year. It's a threat they have long feared.
The Republican Party, said Jeb Bush adviser Ana Navarro, is stuck between "a rock and a jerk" less than eight weeks before the first primary-season votes are cast in Iowa.