The only really interesting aspect of Donald Trump’s extraordinary response to the Orlando shooting is that it demonstrates how far he is from making the essential maneuver every presidential candidate must make at this point in the cycle – pivoting to the general election. Instead, he’s turbocharging his strategy from the primaries. Considering that he has succeeded so far by breaking every rule of electoral politics, I hesitate to say that this cannot possibly work. But it’s getting extremely difficult to imagine that his behavior of the past two days will seem leader-like to Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans, the constituencies he must now attract.
In a statement that seems beyond belief for any mainstream political figure, Trump appeared clearly to implicate President Obama in the massacre. “We are led by a man that is either not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” he told Fox News. “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It’s one or the other. People cannot — they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.” The meaning is inescapable: Obama at least approves of the attack and maybe played some larger role.
Trump has also blamed U.S. Muslims generally for not preventing the attack. “Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they do know where they are,” he told a group in New Hampshire on Monday. He repeated his promise to stop all foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. indefinitely, and then went further, saying he would “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies.” So presumably no visitors from Belgium or France until further notice.
Not that Hillary Clinton has advanced any kind of credible response to worsening terror inspired by radical Islam (the big news on Monday was that she finally said “radical Islam” on CNN). Trump must nonetheless face the issue that while his recent statements are the red meat that worked great for him in the primaries, if he wants to be the leader of the whole country, and not just of the minority of the minority party that has taken him this far, he’ll need to change his game. Though he obviously disagrees.
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