The conventional wisdom has been that Donald Trump would benefit in the presidential race were there were to be a terrorist attack or economic downturn. In the aftermath of the attack in Orlando, that will probably be revised. Trump might still benefit from economic problems, with a majority trusting Trump over Clinton on the economy. It is too soon to have any polling, but it is hard to see Trump benefiting from his post-Orlando comments, including his speech today, which sounds much better in the original German.
Trump was already doing poorly since he clinched the nomination, with his campaign limited to attacks on other Republicans and racist attacks on judges. His statements over the last couple of days might have doomed him to a landslide loss. I fear that when Trump said, “The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here” he really does see every Muslim immigrant as being a future terrorist.
Trump has tried to place the blame on both Obama and Clinton for the attack. He is correct in criticizing Clinton’s Libya policy for the spread of terrorism in the region, and her views on Syria were almost as insane as Trump’s foreign policy. However, Trump is being selective in looking at Libya and Syria, while ignoring Iraq, where both the Republicans and Clinton were wrong. While these policies did make matters worse in the middle east, it is premature to connect this to the lone terrorist in Orlando without clearer knowledge of his views and motivation.
More importantly, while again he is right to condemn Clinton’s Libya and Syria positions, he has hardly been consistent, and Trump’s position here is also quite dangerous. As David Ignatius and William Saleton have pointed out, Trump’s attack on Islam plays right into the hands of terrorists–as George Bush did when he attacked Iraq. From Saleton’s article:
Trump also reinforces ISIS’s message that the campaign against it is a war against Islam. His ban on entry to the United States would apply to all Muslims, not just to radicals or supporters of terrorism. Three months ago, Trump declared that “Islam hates us” and refused to distinguish radical Muslims from Muslims in general, arguing that “it’s very hard to separate because you don’t know who is who.” On Friday, just before the Orlando attack, he told an audience of conservative Christians that he would “defend Christian Americans” and clamp down on the influx of “Syrian refugees.”
n short, Trump would undercut everything that’s working against ISIS: Muslim governments that have joined our military campaign, clerics who are articulating moderate Islam, ministries and activists who are working online to discredit jihadism. He would help ISIS obtain the weapons it needs most: overseas recruits who are willing to kill people in their own countries. He would make another Orlando more likely.
Trump thinks his policy of “vigilance” against domestic Muslims would protect us. But that, too, serves the enemy’s agenda. In its Ramadan message, ISIS urged its sympathizers in the West to wage jihad in their own countries, “to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.” That’s the purpose of the attacks in Fort Hood, Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando: to terrorize us, to polarize us, to make every neighbor fear his neighbor.
So far, the terrorists haven’t succeeded. But Trump might.
I continue to fear how a war monger like Hillary Clinton might respond to a terrorist attack as president. There is also the question of how significant it is that Hillary Clinton has taken another step to the right of Barack Obama, at least in her terminology. In other words, Hillary Clinton is the neocon in this race, and is the candidate representing the usual Republican view. Donald Trump is looking like something even scarier.
Bernie Sanders had a more sensible response, which also demonstrated the limitations to Chuck Todd’s world view. While not very likely, I am still holding out hope that both parties come to their senses at their conventions, as opposed to leaving us with what might be the worst election choice ever.