June 13, 2016
A horrific mass murder on the scale of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre early Sunday would normally cause a time-out in a presidential campaign, as the candidates pause their attacks in deference to the dead and their families.
Donald Trump, though, was prompted by the deadliest mass shooting in American history to immediately launch into some of his harshest and angriest broadsides yet, demanding President Obama resign, Hillary Clinton drop out of the presidential race, and that his call for a ban on Muslims entering the country be enforced.
As a result, the expected grieving and calls for healing on the campaign trail Monday are already expected to be overshadowed by pitched political sparring over national security and gun control as Clinton and Trump respond to the latest act of terrorism on U.S. soil in prepared remarks Monday. Early Sunday morning, a gunman killed 49 people and injured at least 53 in the Orlando nightclub before being killed in a shootout with police.
The rivals will speak about two hours apart on Monday afternoon – Clinton first, in Cleveland, and then Trump in Manchester, N.H., both in battleground states – laying out very different visions on the safety concerns that weigh heavily on voters, and particularly the swing voters who will decide the presidential contest.
Trump rose to the top of a crowded Republican field by pitching himself as an aggressive voice, pushing aside what he sees as a politically correct reaction of Clinton and Obama to the threat of immigration and terrorism, which he argues are closely related. Clinton has built her campaign around her deep well of experience and innate sense of caution and will again make the case that Trump is a loose cannon prone to misfiring, creating an existential threat to the country at this dangerous time.
Both campaigns see the attacks as a key moment. For Trump, it underscores a climate of anger and fear that requires abandoning the old rules. For Clinton, it’s a time to recognize the stakes of taking a gamble on a volatile personality.
Their reactions to the mass shooting highlight their disparate cases. Trump pounced on the tragedy on his Twitter account and in a statement, saying he predicted the attack while arguing that Clinton would bring in hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East who pose imminent danger. He said “we can’t afford to be politically correct anymore,” asserting that it should be the litmus test for leading the country.
“In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam’. For that reason alone, he should step down,” Trump said. “If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the presidency.”
Trump said the attacks are a reflection of weak leaders and that “it is only going to get worse.”
He boasted multiple times that he predicted an event like the one in Orlando was coming. “I’m getting thousands of letters and tweets that I was right about the whole situation,” he said on Fox on Monday morning. He tweeted that he “called it and asked for the ban” on Muslim immigrants, though that assertion was at odds with the facts of the shooting; the gunman, Omar Mateen, was born in New York.
Clinton warned Monday morning on CNN that Trump’s rhetoric is “quite dangerous to our country.” On NBC, she scoffed at his allegation that she won’t brand the attack radical Islamic terrorism.
“Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name calling and from my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say,” she said. “It matters that we got [Osama] bin Laden, not what name we called him. But if he is somehow suggesting I don’t call this for what it is, he hasn’t been listening.”
“I have clearly said that we face terrorists, enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people,” Clinton said. “We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism, and we will. And to me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point.”
The White House, for its part, has generally avoided use of the phrase, seeing it as a term that needlessly complicates U.S. relationships with Islamic allies such as Saudi Arabia and underscores the misguided idea pushed by Islamic State and other extremists that the West is fighting a war against all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
From the launch of his campaign, Trump has sought to harness voter anxieties about terrorism into anger and resentment of Washington. His call to ban Muslims is aimed to show he will take controversial steps to keep the U.S. secure. His proposed wall on the Mexican border is offered as a fortress against fear.
Clinton has warned repeatedly that Trump’s strategy only emboldens the Islamic State and undermines the alliances crucial to confronting terror. “I’m not going to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion,” she said on NBC. “That’s just plain dangerous and it plays into ISIS’ hands.”
She branded the Orlando attack at the gay club as an act of hate against the LGBT community and called on Americans to change gun laws, an issue that has grown increasingly important to Democrats in the age of mass shootings.
Like Trump, her statement was chiefly concerned with terrorism and security. But she offered a less visceral, more methodical plan than Trump to meet that challenge.
“That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home,” she said.
Monday had already been set as the unofficial start of the general election for the two presumptive nominees, with both candidates planning major speeches. Clinton had been expected to talk about unity; Trump had announced a broadside attack on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s long record in public life.
Rather than give the nation a break from politics during the period of mourning, the candidates decided to refocus their speeches to react to the shooting.
Still, it wasn’t completely business as usual. Clinton canceled a rally with Obama that had been scheduled for Wednesday in Wisconsin. Trump canceled a second campaign stop in New Hampshire that was set for Monday afternoon.
Halper reported from Cleveland and Bierman from Manchester, N.H.