Will Islamophobia be a key feature of 2012 presidential race?

It’s not just Herman Cain…

As you may have heard, Cain, the longshot GOP presidential candidate, told Think Progress last week that if elected president, he would not consider any federal appointments of Muslims. Cain explained: “There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”

This wasn’t Cain simply being entrapped by a wily questioner. Cain had expressed similar anti-Muslim sentiments in an interview with Christianity Today a few days earlier.

Appealing to your base’s id is a tried-and-true method dark horse candidates use to garner attention. This is why Donald Trump has spent the last couple of weeks expressing doubts about the president’s birthplace. But frank expressions of anti-Muslim animus are also coming from mainstream GOP contenders.

All of this makes it fair to ask whether some of this anti-Muslim sentiment reflects opposition to Obama generally, and whether dislike for Obama, combined with the mistaken belief that he is a Muslim, has actually contributed to the mainstreaming of Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the right. If so, pandering to Islamophobia may be an easy way for a Republican candidate to communicate his or political instincts to the base, and thus may become an enduring and unalterable feature of the 2012 presidential race that will only intensify as the campaign develops.