Different world view in Clinton, Trump responses

By Thomas Fitzgerald POLITICS WRITER

CLEVELAND — Hillary Clinton stepped to a lectern shorn of the usual campaign sign and spoke in somber tones about the need for national unity and resolve — and tougher gun laws — in response to the deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando.

“Today is not a day for politics,” Clinton said in her first campaign trip since nailing down the Democratic nomination, her plans to talk about manufacturing scrapped.

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history shook up the presidential campaign Monday, offering a potentially defining moment before the parties’ national conventions, a June surprise instead of an October one.

To a hushed crowd on a factory floor, Clinton argued for a set of policies to take on the threat of “lone-wolf” terrorists inspired by the Islamic State but not directed by any group. “We have to be just as adaptable and versatile as our enemies,” she said.

But if her tone was subdued, Donald Trump’s was not.

Barely an hour after Clinton fin ished speaking, Trump touted his proposed ban on Muslim immigration, accused the Obama administration of tying the hands of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and blamed Clinton’s measured response as signaling “weakness” to the world.

“We’ve got problems,” the presumptive Republican nominee said in a speech in Manchester, N.H. “If we don’t get tough, and if we don’t get smart and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing, left.”

The dueling responses sprang from completely different views of the world, and offered a preview of the general-election choice confronting voters, with the massacre having moved national security to the top of voters’ concerns — Trump’s style of instinctive, visceral reaction vs. Clinton’s modulated approach rooted in a faith in the efficacy of policy.

Trump’s approach worked in the primaries. His poll numbers climbed after terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. and Paris. It’s not clear, however, whether the broader general-election audience will be as keen on a potential president who has advocated “a hell of a lot worse” than water-boarding and who said of terrorists, “You have to take out their families.”

Since 1980, Republicans have generally enjoyed an advantage on questions of national security, noted Bruce Haynes, a GOP consultant who cofounded the bipartisan firm Purple Strategies in Washington.

“Voters trusted Republican candidates like Reagan and the Bushes,” Haynes said. “Now with someone who’s new in the political marketplace and has said some challenging things, the question is, can he earn that trust?”

A great deal will depend on whether voters are yearning for change after two terms of President Obama or want to stay the course, he said.

Clinton called Monday for, among other things, a ramped-up bombing campaign by the United States and its allies against ISIS-held territory; greater spending on intelligence-gathering; and restrictions on guns, including reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons and barring gun sales to people on terrorist watch lists — such as the Orlando shooter.

The former secretary of state did not refer to Trump by name, but made clear she was talking about him when she said immigration bans and increased surveillance on U.S. Muslim would not only be wrong but counterproductive in taking on terrorism.

At the same time, she said radical Islamists pose a threat to the nation, an implicit answer to the charge Trump repeated Monday — that she is too “politically correct” to name the enemy.

“None of us can close our eyes to the fact that we do face enemies who use their distorted version of Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people,” Clinton said. “They’d take us all back to the Stone Age … just as they have in parts of Iraq and Syria. The terrorist in Orlando targeted LGBT Americans out of hatred and bigotry. And an attack on any American is an attack on all Americans.”

Trump said the only reason the shooter was in the country was because his parents had been allowed to immigrate. He accused the administration, and by extension Clinton, of “importing Islamic terrorism into the West“ and of welcoming more Syrian refugees than any other country.

Actually, the United Nations says only about 2,500 Syrian refugees have been settled in the U.S. since last year — far fewer than in Canada or Germany, and short of Obama‘s promise of 10,000 — because security screenings are slow and cautious. The gunman in Orlando was born to immigrant parents in New York in 1986.

In the audience here Monday, Sonia Bantu said she was confident of Clinton’s ability to protect the nation.

“Women are more warlike,” said Bantu, a retired nurse from Richmond Heights, a Cleveland suburb. “We would kill if someone threatens our child. … Mothers, we’re strong. We’re steel magnolias. I think Hillary Clinton would be the perfect eagle for this country.”

Lisa Ingersoll, 53, a sommelier from nearby South Euclid, said Clinton’s approach to terrorism and gun violence would work better than what she considers Trump’s bellicose language masquerading as strength.

“She speaks in truth, based in reality,” Ingersoll said. “She has a fine grasp on what is going on in America, as well as the world, and she has shown calm, rational leadership.”

Clinton’s success may be determined in part by how many people agree with Bantu and Ingersoll.

215-854-2718 @tomfitzgerald

Staff writer Michael Matza contributed to this article.