— -- The worst mass shooting in U.S. history pits some of the most volatile forces in American politics against each other, with potentially explosive consequences.
In the wake of Orlando, gun control and Islamic terrorism are part of the same debate. And with the shooter targeting a popular gay nightclub, the debate over protections for LGBT Americans becomes an unavoidable part of the discussion.
Yet the attack in Orlando is not taking Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump off script. If anything, it has them reinforcing their messaging, despite the unpredictable nature of the reaction to homegrown terrorism that appears to have been committed in the name of ISIS.
In her first comments since the attack, Clinton today sought a presidential tone. She declared that this “is not a day for politics,” and offered particular assurances to gay Americans.
Clinton also sprinkled in calls for new gun controls and rebuked, though not by name, Trump for his call for additional surveillance of Muslims.
“That’s wrong, and it’s also dangerous. It plays right into the terrorists’ hands,” Clinton said in a speech in Cleveland.
Trump, meanwhile, was Trump. After declaring on Twitter that he didn’t want congratulations for having been right about the threats of Islamic terrorism, and coming close to suggesting President Obama doesn’t want to defeat the nation’s enemies, he used a speech in New Hampshire to redouble his call for a temporary ban on Muslims’ coming to the United States.
Trump blamed political correctness, a “dysfunctional immigration system,” and “an incompetent administration” for the devastation in Orlando. And he went right after Clinton for refusing to label “radical Islamic terrorism,” saying she wanted to leave “only the bad guys and terrorists with guns.”
“If we don’t get tough, and we don’t get smart, and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing left,” Trump said.
By sheer coincidence, the attack in Orlando happened at the moment of a natural campaign reset. Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee just a week ago, while Trump continues his struggle to get rank-and-file Republicans comfortable with his candidacy five weeks after clinching his party’s nomination.
The extraordinary tragedy did cause a momentary hush on campaign rhetoric, forcing canceled rallies and fundraisers by both candidates.
Even if such a pause is temporary – and today’s speeches made clear it would be – it’s a reminder of the volatility that surrounds this political year. It’s more than possible that we still don’t know the main issues that will animate voters in November.
Trump and Clinton can’t know that either. But, for now, both seem confident in the messages they are conveying, with competing and starkly contrasting visions that play to their individual styles and strengths.