Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign year, left-leaning political experts have worried that if a major terror attack were to happen in the United States, Donald Trump would be guaranteed to win the election.
This fear rapidly evolved after at least 26 people were killed by the Islamic State in Belgium in late March earlier this year. After the Brussels attacks, Politico editor Blake Hounshell tweeted, “America may be one major terrorist attack away from Donald Trump as president.”
After a string of mysterious terror attacks recently in New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Minnesota, the public is looking for a leader they can trust to offer a clear-cut answer.
Is what Trump offers the most popular solution?
How the presidential candidates have responded to this slew of frightening attacks will undoubtedly impact the outcome of the November election. But, with Clinton only ahead of Trump by four points after the debate, it’s still unclear who will pull ahead come November.
However, it seems as long as Trump plays up his xenophobic response to attacks perpetrated by Muslim radicals, he appears to have the upper hand.
While crime overall in the U.S. has dipped dramatically, hate crimes against the Muslim American community are more frequently committed today than they were following 9/11. Some blame Trump's hateful rhetoric as opening the floodgates to this anti-Muslim backlash.
Donald Trump Jr.’s alt-right Skittles reference which compared Muslim refugees to poisonous candy illuminates the overly simplistic anti-Muslim tropes which Trump has used to propel a smear campaign against Islam.
Trump repeatedly confuses Islam with terrorism, as his suggested border closure to Muslim immigrants and refugees has made clear.
On a grander scale, he arguably may have the advantage of gaining more public trust than his rival Hillary Clinton in handling terrorist threats simply because he’s with the Republican Party. Terrorism, after all, has proven to be a deciding factor in previous elections. It helped George W. Bush win in 2004.
In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in May, 46 percent of the public thought that Republicans are better equipped to handle domestic terrorism, in a 9-point lead over Democrats. That may be because the Democratic Party hasn’t had a president during a major terror attack within the U.S.’s borders.
After the debate, one thing is certain; both candidates agree that those on terrorist lists and no-fly lists should not be able to purchase guns. Clinton, however, proved her superiority and clarity of thought when laying out a wider plan to defeat the Islamic State. To the contrary, Trump doesn't appear to have any concrete direction.
Trump, by perpetuating rhetoric of risk — as Bush and Cheney did — and stirring fear into the American public, has the upper hand in becoming president if, and when, a terrorist attack occurs.