Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton clash head-on responding to Orlando tragedy

The question no one can yet answer: who between them is more accurately reading the public mood?

David Usborne
New York
,Rachel Revesz
Monday 13 June 2016 15:37
Trump assails America's leaders for weakness
Trump assails America's leaders for weakness

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are clashing again as they offer almost diametrically opposed perspectives on Sunday’s mass horror in Orlando and how America should respond to it.

While Mr Trump pressed on with demands for more intrusive monitoring and surveillance of the Islamic community in the US and of mosques, Ms Clinton warned against pitting one group of Americans against another and taking steps that might splinter the country along religious lines.

“We cannot demonise, demagogue and declare war on an entire religion. That is just dangerous,“ Ms Clinton said on the MSNBC network on Monday, while acknowledging nonetheless that she supported stronger measures to prevent so-called lone wolf attacks and more internet monitoring.

While there is evidence the shooter, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen, may have been motivated as much by hatred of homosexuals as by faith or ideology, the political conversation in America has so far been mostly in the context of Isis and domestic terrorism.

Within hours of each other, the two candidates delivered dueling speeches in the tragedy's aftermath. While Ms Clinton, speaking in Cleveland, Ohio, did not mention her likely general election opponent by name, Mr Trump repeatedly named and also blamed her for the Orlando horror. And it what appared to be a variation on his previous call for a ban on all Muslim immigrants entering teh US, he said as president he would “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism”. He added: “We have no choice.”

Ms Clinton used her speech in part to reach out to the gay community saying that it had “millions” of allies watching to protect it and she was among them. But she also offered a tough pledge not just to contain Isis but to destroy it if she becomes president. “The Orlando terrorist may be dead, but the virus that poisoned his mind remains very strong, and we must attack it,” she said.

In an important moment, Ms Clinton directly chastised three allies of the US in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait - for allowing its citizens to fund mosques and schools that train jihadists. And she implored Americans to come together in the face of such sadness and fear.

“Americans from all walks of life rallied together with a sense of common purpose on Sept 12. ... We had each others' backs. We did not attack each other, we worked with each other to protect our country and rebuild our city,” she declared said. “It is time to get back to the spirit of those days, the spirit of 9/12, let's keep looking for the best within our country, the best within each of us."

Her stint as Secretary of States makes Clinton step cautiously on Islam and terror. Rex

Mr Trump, the likely Republican nominee, has been the far less cautious of the two presidential candidates, even saying on Twitter on Sunday that he was appreciating all “the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” a remark that drew strong rebukes from many of his critics.

The candidate, who in the past has advocated killing family members of terrorists, insisted on Monday that the US intelligence community should be doing more intense domestic surveillance.

“We have to look at the mosques ... and we have to look at the community,” he told CNN. “And believe me, the community knows the people that have the potential to blow up.”

The contrasting styles of the candidates will make for a stark choice for American voters at the November general election. While one emphasises caution and empathy, the other remains visceral and emphatic, accusing Mr Obama of pussy-footing where, in his view, a sledge-hammer is required. “We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore,” Mr Trump said on Sunday.

Mr Trump has been consistent in berating President Obama for failing roundly to utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”. He even said on Sunday he should step down from the presidency for it. He pursued the point on Monday. “There are a lot of people that think that maybe (Obama) doesn't want to get“ the terror threat facing the country, he told the NBC Today Show.

The willingness of Mr Trump to seek political advantage from national tragedy also outstrips anything seen before. I twas after the Paris attacks last November that he stunned America, including many in his own party, by calling for the ban on Muslim immigration. But it was a position that proved extremely popular with the primary Republican voters who eventually handed him the nomination.

“Whenever there's a tragedy, everything goes up, my numbers go way up because we have no strength in this country. We have weak, sad politicians,” Mr Trump averred at the time.

On the Democratic side, both Ms Clinton and President Obama, have already taken the Orlando shooting as another platform to plea for stronger gun control in America. Mr Trump, by contrast, has said of past tragedies, including the mass shooting in San Bernardino in California, that they wouldn't have happened if more ordinary citizens carried arms.

“It's important that we stop the terrorists from getting the tools they need to carry out the attacks, and that is especially true when it comes to assault weapons like those used in Orlando and San Bernardino,” California, Ms Clinton said in Cleveland, bringing many in the audience to their feet.

The attacks on Mr Obama for declining to speak directly about radical Islamic terrorism, has been red meat on the campaign trail for Mr Trump’s supporters. Ms Clinton, however, sought to deflect the issue as essentially a distraction.

“From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say,” she told CNN. “It mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. I have clearly said we - whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I'm happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments