I was having Mexican for lunch with friends on a beautiful sunny Silicon Valley afternoon. My enchiladas were excellent, as was the conversation. Then I happened to glance up at the TV, and CNN was on with breaking news. I couldn’t hear it, but the headline scrolling by at the bottom read “50 killed in Orlando shooting. Shooter born in New York, parents from Afghanistan. Shooter claimed allegiance to ISIS in 911 call.”
We’d been hit again. It sank in.
I already knew what the liberal response would be. They would blame Republicans and conservatives, Christians, and the National Rifle Association. No surprise there, even though it was not a Christian, but a Muslim and registered Democrat who carried out the attack. But why let little things like facts get in the way?
Yet I was most curious to see how Donald Trump would respond. Would he reiterate his call for a ban on Muslim immigration—which some have called racist, Islamophobic, and unbecoming of a presidential candidate? Or would he back down and embrace political correctness in order to placate his critics and seem more presidential?
Trump answered my curiosity with his national security speech the Monday following the attack. Let’s look at five key takeaways from his talk.
1. The Orlando Attacks Legitimized Trump’s Message
Trump’s simple solution of temporarily banning immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States already made sense to many Americans. Now, after the Orlando attack, his argument will seem even more like common sense and less like an extreme solution. You can bet the “ban” will be the topic of discussion at many dinner tables and coffee break rooms all around America this week, in a much more substantive way than before Orlando.
2. Trump Got Elegant
Trump chose not to capitulate, but to reiterate. He repeated his ban on immigration from Muslim countries, but this time stating it in a much more elegant fashion, replacing “Muslim countries” with “areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States.” This more-sophisticated phrasing sounds more measured and reasoned, will be palatable to more Americans, and will be harder to attack for being intolerant.
3. Trump Tied the Orlando Attack to Immigration
Trump successfully tied the terrorist attack to our immigration system, which allowed the killer’s father to enter the United States even though he supports the Taliban and is from a country with a proven history of terrorism. Trump showed that inviting the wrong people to our country can have disastrous impact, even in the second generation. Critically, he showed that the much-touted rigorous background screening done on immigrants simply cannot be relied upon, as evidenced by not only Orlando but also San Bernardino. All this will let Trump show that his immigration policies could have prevented this attack.
4. Trump Tied the Orlando Attack to Political Correctness
Trump argued that political correctness stifled the FBI’s response to the attack. Indeed, we know the FBI had investigated the Orlando terrorist on multiple occasions, yet no action was taken. This was ostensibly due to fears of being seen as anti-Islam, and due to FBI agents receiving ineffective, politically correct training on Islam. Thus, by tying political correctness to the government’s failure to stop a known terrorist suspect, Trump has strengthened his positioning as the only candidate who won’t let political correctness stand in the way of protecting Americans.
5. Trump Differentiated Himself
Trump argued that President Obama and Hillary Clinton support increased immigration from countries known to support terrorism; that they refuse to release the immigration history of known terrorists in the United States; that political correctness prevents them from taking action against Islamic terrorism; and that border control is better than gun control. This is the exact opposite of Hillary’s position. These policies clearly differentiate Trump from Hillary, and make him appear stronger on terrorism.
All in all, Trump skillfully responded to Orlando, articulating his core message in a more sophisticated way than before, yet without losing any of the sting and unorthodoxy that people love (and hate) so much. I can’t wait to see if upcoming poll numbers reflect a bump in support, as I’m expecting.