Is Trump Blowing His Big, post-Orlando Opportunity?

Trump’s militancy on Islamic terror might please right-wingers in Israel and the U.S. but his tasteless tweets and offensive comments alienate everyone else.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses while delivering a campaign speech about national security in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. June 13, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses while delivering a campaign speech about national security in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. June 13, 2016. Credit: Brian Snyder, Reuters
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

At the White House on Monday, President Obama showed why American and Israeli right-wingers don’t like him. His world is complex while the truth is self-evident and crystal clear. He complicates matters that should be unequivocal. He resides in a grey area when the world is black and white. He urges patience and caution instead of reaching quick conclusions and offering instant solutions. He says there are many overlapping aspects to the Orlando outrage, when everyone knows the Muslims are guilty and finish.

What is Obama on about, impatient analysts on both sides of the Atlantic ask. It’s clear that “ISIS Attacked America”, as the headlines in Israel noted, even if their only evidence for this assertion is the organization’s press release. Why are all those knee jerk liberals getting worked up about the fact that the perpetrator bought his instruments of death the week before as if they were groceries, or that Congress won’t allow the FBI to question him, even if he is suspect, about why he would need a deadly AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with lethal high-velocity bullets? Why is it relevant that less than 100 Americans have been killed by Muslims on U.S. soil since 2010, but over 50,000 have been murdered with guns? Is it all meant to deflect attention away from the global terrorist threat of radical Islam?

Donald Trump, at least, speaks a language that most Israelis are very familiar with. With him there are good guys and there are bad guys and nothing in between. As he made clear in the written speech he delivered on Monday in Massachusetts, the identity of the people most responsible for the reason carnage is well known: their names are Obama and, much more so, Hillary Clinton. And while Trump surprised many with warm expressions of sympathy for the LGBT community hit so hard by the Orlando massacre, he more than made up for it with collective insinuations of guilt aimed at Muslim immigrants to America and their offspring. American Muslims “most cooperate with us” he said in a tone that could reasonably be heard as a threat.

Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, allegedly an expert on all things U.S., told Israel’s Channel 10 on Sunday that Trump will be “very much strengthened” by the tragedy in Florida. “It’s clear-cut Islamic terror,” he said. The very mention of the murderer’s “Muslim name” will be very influential. If I was Trump, he advised, but later clarified that he was simply “analyzing," I would push hard on the Muslim terror angle. Judging by his militant speech, Trump is thinking along the same lines.

In normal times, with a normal candidate, Oren’s predictions would be solid. If Trump would make do with prepared speeches, controversial as they might be, and refrain from instantly tweeting his stream of consciousness and reiterating his thoughts in morning interviews, he could be riding high now. In times of anxiety, fear and frustration, voters seek strength and resolution rather than Obama’s careful and deliberate approach. Most of the 16 GOP candidates who vied against Trump could have taken on the balanced and programmatic speech that Clinton delivered in Ohio yesterday and responded with a forceful yet reasonable counterproposal. At least it would a fair fight.

But Trump, it seems, doesn’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Since the reports of the horror at the Pulse nightclub first came out, he has released an endless series of tasteless tweets and offensive comments. The carnage was only a few hours old when Trump claimed “congrats” for having recognized, as if he actually invented the term, the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism. He claimed that Omar Mateen had shouted Allahu Akbar at his victims, before such a report was confirmed. He actually complained about the Orlando victims not carrying guns, with which they might have killed their assailant. He proposed spying on Muslim mosques, as if that was in any way constitutional, and as if it might not turn the affronted Muslim community, as security experts fear, into a hotbed of potential radicalization to complement ISIS’ efforts.

Trump suggests preventive measures that are, in fact, collective punishment, such as a ban on entry of Muslims, which he amended Monday to encompass only those that come from countries in which there is “terrorism against us.” He portrays Obama not only as hesitant and impotent but also as harboring some sinister secret that compels him to actually defend radical Islam. Trump doesn’t spell out his suspicions, leaving ample room for speculation by conspiracy lovers: Was he born in Kenya? Is he a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood? Possibly, as the Likud used to say about Shimon Peres - is his mother Arab?

Trump was supposed to realize that his reckless mouth was jeopardizing his candidacy even before it is ratified at the upcoming Republican Convention. His sustained attacks on the “Mexican” judge who is trying his case threatened to erode whatever GOP support he had managed to muster. Instead of repairing his image and pretending to be a responsible statesman, he has once again sparked apprehension about his personality and capacity to lead. Trump’s all-out assault on Muslims on Monday could possibly consolidate his support among right-wing diehards but it certainly won’t suffice to win over independents and moderate Republicans. It’s possible, of course, that in order to do that, Trump would need to stop being Trump.

All bets are off, of course, if Islamic-tinged terror returns, if the summer and fall of this election year are stained with American blood. Under such circumstances, Trump could triumph and take the White House, despite his ill-advised statements, his creative factual assertions and his shoot-from-the-hip solutions. Democrats should rightfully be concerned about such a scenario. Many Israelis might be happy, of course, but so will the leaders of ISIS and their disciples.

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