Addressing terror, Clinton plays it safe; Trump promises bold change
The terrorist bombings in New York and New Jersey, which injured 29, and the terrorist stabbings in Minnesota, which injured nine, were nowhere near as serious as the terrorist shootings in Orlando, which killed 49, and in San Bernardino, which killed 14. Nevertheless, the acts of accused bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami, and of Dahir Adan, the stabber whose rampage was ended by an offduty police officer in Minnesota, brought the issue of terrorism back to the presidential campaign trail.
There was a time when terror attacks were thought to benefit Trump politically, because polls suggested he was seen by many voters as tougher on the issue. But Trump is widely believed to have fumbled things badly after Orlando last June, forfeiting some of his advantage. New York, New Jersey and Minnesota presented an unhappy opportunity to do better.
For Clinton, the attacks were a chance to lead, to show strength and steadiness after a tough few weeks.
Clinton played it safe. Speaking to reporters in White Plains ,New York, before setting off to a speech at Temple University Monday, she thanked first responders and in essence promised to continue the Obama administration’s anti-terror efforts, only a bit better. She would start an “intelligence surge,” she said, and an ”accelerated” anti-Islamic State coalition air campaign — all a little more of what Obama is doing.
After two acts of jihad committed by immigrants apparently committed to Islamic radicalism, Clinton, as always, rejected Trump’s immigration-oriented anti-terror proposals. “Let us remember, there are millions and millions of naturalized citizens in America from all over the world,” she said in White Plains. “There are millions of law-abiding peaceful Muslim-Americans. This is the kind of challenge that law enforcement can be and is prepared to address, namely going after anyone who would threaten the United States.”
The overarching theme of Clinton’s message at the news conference was continuity with the Obama administration. “I was part of the national security team that worked with President Obama to develop strategies to fight the terrorists,” she said. “So we’re going to stay focused on what will work ...”
Clinton did not address the possibility that what is being done now is not working.
Trump, for his part, was as bold as Clinton was cautious. “These attacks and many others were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system, which fails to properly vet and screen the individuals and families coming into our country,” he said. “Attack after attack, from 9/11 to San Bernardino, we have seen how failures to screen who is entering the United States puts all of our citizens, everyone in this room, at danger. So let me state very, very clearly: Immigration security is national security.”
Trump noted that in the past decade and a half, “hundreds of immigrants and their children from high-risk regions have been implicated in terrorism and terrorist-related activity in the United States.” And Clinton, Trump continued, would substantially increase the number of refugees from high-risk areas being allowed into the U.S. Clinton also opposes ideologically vetting those entering the country, as Trump proposes to do.
Who won the safe vs. bold terror debate in the wake of New York, New Jersey and Minnesota? That’s the kind of question that can’t be answered. But some Republicans felt Trump walked away with a real edge.
“Trump looked strong, while Clinton looked measured and weak,” wrote Curt Anderson, another veteran GOP operative not working on the campaign. “Also — we overestimate the impact of what the candidates say in the wake of these things. The big issue is that any terror attack is terrible for Clinton. It highlights her biggest weakness. Anybody remember when Hillary Clinton’s strongest asset was her command of foreign policy and experience with it? Seems like a long time ago.”