Do terror attacks help Donald Trump’s bid for the White House?
Donald Trump wasted no time seizing on the latest acts of terrorism on U.S. soil to sell a Trump presidency as the solution to security fears.
But with the first of three presidential debates happening Monday and Election Day just seven weeks away, the weekend bomb blasts in New York and New Jersey, and the stabbing attack in Minnesota, add fuel to Trump’s campaign fire and his message that immigration policies are to blame for domestic terror attacks.
The suspected bomber, 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami, was born in Afghanistan but immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1995, when he would have been about seven years old. According to CNN, Rahami was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2011.
In St. Cloud, Minnesota on Saturday a man stabbed 10 people at a shopping mall before being fatally shot by an off-duty police officer. The suspect was 22-year-old Somali refugee Dahir Ahmed Adan. Authorities are investigating the attack as a “potential act of terrorism.”
Trump has been beating the immigration reform drum with a heavy hand since first announcing his bid to be the Republican nominee back in June 2015 including his notorious plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States and his notorious plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
His legions of supporters believe the fears are real and that his criticisms of security screening under the Obama administration are credible. The question is whether or not the attacks will bolster Trump’s chances of winning the election.
“We unfortunately know that a precedent exists for terrorists impacting a western government’s elections,” John Avalon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast wrote Saturday in the wake of the bombs.
And Trump, he wrote, “rarely loses an opportunity to exploit terror.”
“Within minutes of initial fog-of-war reports about Saturday night’s explosion in Chelsea, Trump told a crowd in Colorado Springs that a bomb had gone off in New York and while ‘nobody knows exactly what’s going on but, boy we are really in a time—we better get tough folks.’ Always classy, he then touted a new poll showing him 4-points up.”
Trump even claimed he foresaw something like this.
“I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news,” he told Fox News Monday morning.
“This is something that will happen, perhaps, more and more all over the country,” the Los Angeles Times reported the Republican presidential candidate as saying in the interview. “Because we’ve been weak. Our country’s been weak. We’re letting people in by the thousands and tens of thousands.”
Counterterrorism expert John Cohen agreed there will be a ripple effect felt on the election trail but he doesn’t necessarily think it’s Trump who may benefit.
“When events occur like this … you tend to have people become more fearful, and when people are more fearful, they tend to gravitate towards a candidate who appears to be more strong,” Cohen, the a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism coordinator, told ABC News.
“Traditionally, it’s been the Republican Party who has projected strength and awareness in the area of law enforcement and homeland security, but today that’s kind of flipped because, despite his rhetoric, there are a number of national security experts who have raised concerns about the level of understanding that Donald Trump has as it relates to terrorism and national security threats.”
ABC News pointed to three recent polls that seemed to suggest Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is the candidate whom more Americans — only slightly more — trust to deal with the threat of terrorism. But all of those polls were taken prior to this weekend’s events in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota.
Amid all Trump’s rhetoric, some analysts point out, there is very little policy.
“For all of his huffing and puffing, Trump has yet to offer any remotely workable solution to terrorism. What he offers is a lot of anti-Muslim animus that is guaranteed to backfire,” Max Boot, a national security studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote for Foreign Policy.
Clinton, who served as Secretary of State for the first four years of Barack Obama‘s presidency and her campaign have touted her experience and what they say is her steady judgment as key selling points for her candidacy. On the campaign trail, she frequently invokes her role in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, describing to voters the tense atmosphere in the White House alongside Obama at that moment. Clinton also argues Trump’s message only give “aid and comfort” to Islamic State recruiters looking to spread the terror group’s extremist ideology and to encourage potential attackers.
Regardless of who’s more qualified than whom, terrorism is a key issue for American voters this election year.
According to a July poll from the Pew Research Center, terrorism was the second most important issue after the economy.
With files from The Associated Press
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