The spate of terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota over the weekend, and the subsequent capture of bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami were immediately subsumed into the presidential campaign on Monday, as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each claimed to be best suited to defend the nation from terrorism while assuring the public that their opponent is exactly the person terrorists want to see in the Oval Office.
Neither campaign covered itself in glory on Monday. Trump was coming off another bad weekend in which his surrogates were tripped up on national television trying to defend his false claim that Clinton started rumors about then-Senator Barack Obama’s citizenship in 2008.
The Trump campaign kept blasting out regular press releases as the news developed on Monday, promising, among other things, that he would simply “end” violence against Americans. However, when asked what he would do specifically in an interview with Fox and Friends Monday morning, he fell back on tough-guy posturing with little else to back it up.
“We’re going to have to do something extremely tough over there,” he said.
“Like, knock the hell out of them. And we have to get everybody together and we have to lead for a change because we’re not knocking them. We’re hitting them every once in a while; we’re hitting them in certain places; we’re being very gentle about it. We have to be very tough.”
At times on Monday, it seemed that the defining element of Trump’s anti-ISIS strategy is to repeat the word “tough” as often as possible.
In a written release Monday afternoon, he said, “These are tough problems that require tough leadership. We need to get smart and get tough fast so that this weekend’s attacks do not become the new normal here as it has in Europe and other parts of the world.”
For her part, Clinton also jumped right into the fray. On Monday she said, “I'm the only candidate in this race who's been part of the hard decisions to take terrorists off the battlefield. I have sat at that table in the Situation Room.” She said, "I know how to do this."
However, late Sunday she accused Trump of giving “aid and comfort” to ISIS recruiters. The remark grew out of intelligence reports that suggest that anti-Muslim rhetoric of the sort Trump has spouted during the campaign is used to inspire terrorist recruits. But the language she chose corresponds almost exactly to the legal definition of treason.
The Trump campaign responded with predictable outrage.
“Hillary Clinton’s comments today accusing Mr. Trump of treason are not only beyond the pale, it’s also an attempt to distract from her horrible record on ISIS,” said Trump senior communications adviser Jason Miller. “If Clinton really wants to find the real cause of ISIS, she needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror. The decision to remove all American troops from Iraq in 2011, which was vigorously supported by Clinton, created the vacuum that led to the founding of ISIS. Nothing she says or does can ever un-ring that bell. The only thing we can expect from a Hillary Clinton presidency is more attacks on our homeland and more innocent Americans being hurt and killed.”
Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon retorted, “For most of his campaign, Donald Trump has made dangerous and irresponsible statements that experts say play directly into the hands of ISIS and its perverse ideology. We know from independent analysis by counterterrorism experts with years of experience that ISIS supporters want him to win and that his rhetoric has been used for recruitment. We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who can so easily play into the hands of terrorists. The Trump campaign can call it whatever they want; Hillary Clinton will continue to call it out as Donald Trump continues his reckless campaign.”