Why terrorism doesn’t help Donald Trump

Jamelle Bouie writes: Americans who read outlets like the New York Times woke up to detailed and largely accurate information about Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, which killed and wounded dozens. Americans who watched cable news, on the other hand, woke up to Donald Trump, who presented these attacks—like the ones in Paris—as a boon for his campaign. “This is a subject that is very dear and near to my heart, because I’ve been talking about it much more than anybody else,” he said. “And it’s probably why I’m No. 1 in the polls. Because of the fact that I say we have to have strong borders. We have to be very vigilant and careful who we allow into our country.”

Meanwhile, some journalists were frustrated with the networks’ choice to give attention to Trump and essentially let him campaign on the destruction in Brussels before the bodies had even been counted. “ ‘Terrorist attacks help Trump’ isn’t a thing that just happens. It happens because after attacks, voters see his face on every TV network,” wrote Jill Filipovic, a columnist for the Guardian. “America may be one major terrorist attack from Donald Trump as president,” said Blake Hounshell, editorial director at Politico.

Both Trump and his critics are operating from the belief that terrorism, even abroad, helps the most reactionary and illiberal candidates in an election. Trump was the chief GOP beneficiary of the Paris attacks, which helped him build a larger lead over his rivals. In an apparently anti-establishment year, with many Americans driven variously by economic anxiety, racism, and deep fears of external threat, it’s easy to believe that Trump could ride the Brussels attack to more votes and a shorter path to the White House.

At the same time, there’s reason to think this just isn’t true. Americans do become more conservative in the face of physical threat. Fears over terrorism, for example, helped George W. Bush win a second term. But Bush was a sitting president who led the national response after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. For millions of Americans, he was a credible voice on the subject.

The same is not true of Donald Trump. As evidenced by his almost absurdist dialogue with the editorial board of the Washington Post, Trump doesn’t know anything about terrorism or national security. [Continue reading…]

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