By Eli Stokols
June 14, 2016
Campaigns always say the candidate is driving the strategy. For the first time in modern presidential politics, it might be true with Donald Trump.
The presumptive GOP nominee determined quickly after Sunday’s massacre in Orlando was classified as a terrorist attack that the moment shouldn’t be wasted.
He consulted very few people before beginning to tweet. And as he shifted his plans for Monday from an attack on Hillary and Bill Clinton’s past to one that would focus instead on his response to Orlando, Trump’s team reached out to a few people for thoughts short of advice.
His furious, fact-challenged speech on Monday was built, in part, from background materials provided by the Republican National Committee. Trump took input from campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and spoke by phone with several supporters, including Ben Carson. But the candidate himself had the strongest hand in shaping his message, portraying the Orlando terror attack as validation of convictions he’s deeply held for years, according to multiple sources close to the candidate.
“He has been saying these things for years in meetings, to his friends and associates,” one Trump confidant said. “The stuff about ‘if we don’t have borders, we don’t have a country.’ This just validates his view and he’s not going to shy away from his beliefs.”
It won’t end there. The plan — to encourage fear by suggesting that Washington is actively promoting policies that endanger its citizens — plays directly to the base that rewarded him with the GOP nomination.
“All the sophisticates in the press corps can say what they want, but if you want to reach the blue-collar voter in Ohio, this is smart. These little periods in the campaign are good for him, no matter how tacky he comes across,” said Curt Anderson, a GOP strategist in Washington.
But just as the general election is beginning to take shape, there is no mistaking that the Republican Party has a standard-bearer doubling-down on a proposal to curtail immigration and to at least temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
In using a teleprompter for the third time in the past week, Trump, after ad-libbing his way through the primary, is showing a new willingness to at least draft and organize his comments in advance. And in one way, he did follow the advice he got last week from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who both urged him to stop attacking the judge in the pending Trump University lawsuit in order to focus on Hillary Clinton, who was his prime target again on Monday. Although less than an hour after finishing his speech, Trump had moved on to tweeting about his campaign’s decision to add The Washington Post to a growing list of news organizations banned from covering his campaign events.
“This is a very small campaign and a pretty undisciplined candidate and we’re seeing the impact of that,” said one operative close to the campaign. “The in-fighting has impeded efforts to hire more people and professionalize the messaging. It’s just all over the place right now.”
“We’re going from totally incompetent to totally the opposite,” Trump said. “Believe me.”
In its bombast, bluntness and braggadocios-ness, the prepared speech was only slightly tempered from Trump’s initial response to the attack over the weekend, both his written statement blasting President Barack Obama and Clinton and a subsequent tweet accepting “congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Would a perfect candidate have not congratulated himself on Twitter? Yeah, fine. But swing voters are hearing ‘another terrorist attack’ and saying, ‘Who’s going to be stronger dealing with them? Well, probably the madman,’” Anderson said.
Trump’s speech followed Clinton’s on Monday, answering the presumptive Democratic nominee’s attempt to be unifying and calming with remarks that, at best, characterized her approach as timid and weak and, at worst, stoked Americans’ fears of their Muslim neighbors with visions of immigrants who “share the values” of the Orlando shooter and other legal residents who have carried out attacks on U.S. soil out of loyalty to ISIL and other terrorist groups.
“All of the Sept. 11th hijackers were issued visas,” Trump said. “Large numbers of Somali refugees in Minnesota have tried to join ISIS. The Boston bombers came here through political asylum. The male shooter in San Bernardino —again, whose name I won't mention — was the child of immigrants from Pakistan, and he brought his wife — the other terrorist — from Saudi Arabia, through another one of our easily exploited visa programs.
He also attempted to call out a hypocrisy long claimed by talk radio hosts and grass-roots activists on the far right, stating that Clinton cannot be both a supporter of gay rights and women’s rights and a proponent of Muslim immigration, arguing that Muslim culture is anti-gay and misogynistic.
“Many of the principles of radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions,” Trump said. “Radical Islam is anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-American.
“I refuse to allow America to become a place where gay people, Christian people and Jewish people, are the targets of persecution and intimidation by radical Islamic preachers of hate and violence.”
He continued: “If we want to protect the quality of life for all Americans — women and children, gay and straight, Jews and Christians and all people — then we need to tell the truth about radical Islam.”
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