Wall Street Journal
By Peter Nicholas
June 12, 2016
The mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., elevated an issue that Republican Donald Trump has been stressing throughout his presidential campaign: the threat posed by jihadists bent on killing Americans at home.
Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, on Sunday emphasized other dynamics. She said the U.S. must work with “allies and partners” to foil terrorists. She also made note of the gay and lesbian targets of the killings, denouncing “an act of hate” against a community that is part of the political coalition she hopes will help her defeat Mr. Trump.
“We will keep fighting for your right to live free, openly and without fear,” she said.
With images from Orlando blanketing TV screens, Mr. Trump stressed in a series of tweets that the attack came from an Islamic extremist and suggested conventional Democratic policies backed by President Barack Obama and Mrs. Clinton are inadequate to the task of wiping out terrorism.
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance,” he wrote in one.
Mr. Obama condemned what he called an “act of terror and an act of hate,” calling on Americans to stand united in the wake of the deadliest shooting rampage in the country’s history.
The Orlando attack is the latest in a string of incidents that have shaken Americans in recent years, including the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting and the Fort Hood shootings in Texas.
“Trump’s strength arises from frustration and fear,” said Michael Oren, a historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. The Orlando massacre “deepens the fear and heightens the frustration that many Americans do not feel safe.”
Mr. Trump has ground to make up when it comes to persuading voters he would do a better job than Mrs. Clinton keeping the nation safe. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month showed that registered voters believed by a 10-point margin the former secretary of state would be a better commander-in-chief.
Since entering the race, Mr. Trump has taken a hard-line stance on terrorism that proved popular in the GOP primary fight. He called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and promised that he would “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.” He also faulted Mr. Obama for a strategy that, he said, is “losing the war on terrorism.”
The Muslim ban has come under widespread criticism and Mr. Trump last month described the ban as merely a proposal. But Trump advisers believe the mass slaughter at a gay bar in Orlando—carried out by a man who pledged allegiance to Islamic State—will help demonstrate that Mr. Trump is bringing a plain-spoken urgency to the issue of terrorism that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton both lack.
Indeed, he seems to be embracing the Muslim ban anew. In another tweet Sunday, he wrote: “Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.” In a separate statement Sunday, he said: “I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct any more.” He said he planned a speech on terrorism, immigration and national security on Monday.
Not since 2004, when Osama bin Laden issued a videotape weeks before the contest between President George W. Bush and John Kerry, has terror been such a prominent campaign issue, said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University in Washington. “It’s in the interests of these groups to provoke polarization in our society,” he said.
A former GOP rival whom Mr. Trump defeated, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, issued a statement calling for a more aggressive approach. “It is a time for action,” he said.
“We need a commander-in-chief who will speak the truth and who will unleash the full force and fury of the American military to utterly destroy ISIS and its affiliates.”
Americans rattled by deadly terrorist attacks, Trump advisers say, will see in his policies a course-correction that Mrs. Clinton is unwilling to take. “People are concerned about the fact that this will happen everywhere. The question is not theoretical—it’s blood-covered,” said Walid Phares, a Trump foreign-policy adviser.
Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri suggested Mr. Trump is trying to capitalize on the strategy.
While Mrs. Clinton “has a comprehensive plan to combat ISIS at home and abroad,” she said, “Donald Trump put out political attacks, weak platitudes and self-congratulations. Trump has offered no real plans to keep our nation safe and no outreach to the Americans targeted, just insults and attacks.”
—Alan Cullison contributed to this article.
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