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NYPD Chaplain Imam Khalid Latif speaks during an interfaith rally at New York's City Hall in Manhattan December 9, 2015. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States drew a growing wave of international criticism on Wednesday and cost him business in the Middle East. /Brendan McDermid

Those who thought Donald Trump's next outrageous pronouncement would be his last as a serious candidate for U.S. president were sorely mistaken. Large segments of the American public have been content to overlook his comments on Latin American migrants; they've forgiven him his views on women and have even ignored his making fun of disabilities.

But with his bald statement that the United States should close its borders to all Muslims until U.S. officials figure out "what the hell is going on," Mr. Trump, a political gambler, appears to have hit the jackpot.

No sooner had the words been uttered – from the bridge of the USS Yorktown no less – than Mr. Trump's approval ratings rose. He hit a nerve. Frightened and angry Americans are turning to him as their hero – one who dares speak the truth as they see it.

Though many people, including fellow Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, members of the ultraconservative Tea Party and Republican leaders in Congress, have turned on Mr. Trump for his possibly unconstitutional and openly Islamophobic recommendation, many others have supported his statement or refused to condemn it.

Senator Ted Cruz, another Republican presidential candidate whose popularity among conservatives has recently risen, rejected the specific Trump proposal but said: "I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America's attention on the need to secure our borders."

Perhaps the only question that remains to be solved is whether the redoubtable Mr. Trump will turn out to be the next Ronald Reagan or prove to be another George Wallace?

Those presidential candidates also tapped into the angry-American vote.

With Mr. Wallace, in 1968, it was the white working class who feared for their safety in the wake of the Civil Rights Act enforcing an end to segregation and feared for their jobs as the economy went into decline.

Like Mr. Trump, the former Alabama governor was renowned for his rhetoric. He said the Supreme Court judges who had ordered the desegregation of Southern schools were a bunch of "limousine hypocrites" and that a bridge being built over the Potomac River outside Washington was "for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia."

Though he had been a lifelong Democrat and twice sought the party's nomination for president, Mr. Wallace resigned himself to running as an independent in 1968. Republican and Democrats both feared he would siphon off many of their candidates' votes, while Mr. Wallace hoped for enough Electoral College votes to hold a balance of power should neither Hubert Humphrey nor Richard Nixon garner sufficient support to hold a majority of the college.

Mr. Wallace ended up with almost 10 million votes, carried five Southern states and garnered 46 Electoral College votes. Mr. Nixon, however, won a majority of the College and easily became president, while Mr. Wallace returned to the governor's mansion in Alabama and was never again a serious national threat.

Mr. Trump, too, has said he is prepared to run as an independent in 2016. The difference is that Mr. Trump's independent candidacy would split the conservative vote and likely scupper any chance a Republican had of defeating the Democratic candidate. This is a threat that helps keep him among the Republicans in their hope he'll eventually fade away.

With Mr. Reagan, in 1980, the people's anger and fear came from the threat posed by Iran's Islamic revolutionaries, who were holding U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran and rendering the Carter administration seemingly impotent to overcome them – perhaps the closest set of circumstances to today's perceived threat from radical Islamic elements.

But Mr. Reagan never lapsed into racial or religious demagoguery. In fact, he surreptitiously negotiated with the very radicals in Tehran that held America hostage and brought the embassy staff home.

While Mr. Trump has taken the Reagan slogan of 1980 as his own – "Let's make America great again" – he is no Ronald Reagan. His solution for the fear many Americans feel is to "bomb the hell" out of various enemies and shut the U.S. border. Mr. Reagan exuded strength by talking softly while carrying a big stick.

Mr. Trump invoked the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to defend his policy of shutting out Muslims – a reference to Japanese internment camps during the Second World War. Xenophobic policies have a long history in the United States, as they do in Canada. There have been laws to keep out Chinese workers and policies that kept out Jews. The U.S. Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 was an outright ban on the immigration of all Arabs and Asians. In their time, all these policies enjoyed majority support.

The United States may be entering another of those times.