White House hopeful Donald Trump appeared bent on exploiting Sunday’s massacre in Orlando to boost the argument that he can be trusted to tackle terrorism over rival Hillary Clinton.
With many victims of the carnage yet to be identified, and police still probing the suspected Islamist ties of the slain gunman, Trump wasted no time in harnessing the assault to his political advantage.
The presumptive Republican nominee unleashed a broadside accusing President Barack Obama and his would-be Democratic successor Clinton of failing to tackle what Trump calls “radical Islam.”
“Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen -- and it is only going to get worse,” he said in a statement. “I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”
Trump is set to deliver more of the same tough talk at a campaign appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday. The speech was originally to be about Clinton, but he is shifting the focus to national security. His other Monday event, in Portsmouth, has been scrapped, his campaign said.
As the country reeled from what is being treated as the deadliest attack on US soil since September 11, 2001, Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said the threat of terrorism was likely to dominate the US campaign debate.
“It will be at the forefront until election day,” he told AFP.
After extremists slaughtered 130 people in Paris last November and a Muslim husband-and-wife team murdered 14 in San Bernardino, California, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
The move prompted an uproar, but he doubled down, presenting himself as prepared to do more to crack down on extremism than his political rivals.
After San Bernardino, “It became a permanent part of the Trump dialogue,” said Quinnipiac’s Malloy.
In March, following a deadly attack in Brussels, Trump said his insistence on defeating extremism was “probably why I’m number one in the polls”.
Opinion polls late last year showed a majority of Republicans supporting Trump’s call for a Muslim travel ban.
Trump and Clinton are promoting radically different approaches to fighting terror, and have traded accusations that the other is not fit to run the country.
Trump has repeatedly called for a halt to refugee flows from West Asia and assailed Clinton for wanting to expand them.
He says he is prepared to re-authorise torture methods such as waterboarding in terrorism cases and advocates targeting the families of terror suspects.
Trump also repeatedly argues that attacks like the one in Paris would have seen far fewer casualties if people had been armed to defend themselves.
According to Quinnipiac, voters see Clinton as far more prepared than Trump to handle an international crisis -- but they see Trump as better able to tackle the IS threat.
Clinton leads Trump in most head-to-head matchups, but “things can happen in the final weeks and months before the election,” explained Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
“What if we have an attack like Paris in October?” he asked.
“Maybe people will say we can’t trust a person who’s never had any experience. But maybe there is the allure of a strongman.”
Clinton argues that her experience -- as first lady, US senator and top diplomat -- makes her the most qualified to be president.
She has reminded voters she urged Obama to authorise the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
But Trump touted his own clairvoyance about national security challenges, tweeting the “congrats” he received “for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri hit back at Trump for having “put out political attacks, weak platitudes and self-congratulations.”
“Trump has offered no real plans to keep our nation safe and no outreach to the Americans targeted, just insults and attacks,” CBS News quoted Palmieri as saying.”