Orlando massacre thrusts terror threat into US presidential race

With many victims of the carnage yet to be identified, and police still probing the suspected terrorism ties of the slain gunman, Donald Trump wasted no time in harnessing the assault to his political advantage.

Brett Morian, from Daytona Beach, hugs an attendee during the candlelight vigil at Ember in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, June 12. Joshua Lim / Orlando Sentinel via AP
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WASHINGTON // 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 terrorism ties of the slain gunman, Mr 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 Mrs 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.”

Mr 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 Mrs 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 said.

After extremists slaughtered 130 people in Paris last November and a Muslim husband-and-wife team murdered 14 in San Bernardino, California, Mr 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 Mr Malloy.

In March, following a deadly attack in Brussels, Mr 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 Mr Trump’s call for a Muslim travel ban.

Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton are promoting radically different approaches to fighting terror and have traded accusations that the other is not fit to run the country.

Mr Trump has repeatedly called for a halt to refugee flows from the Middle East, and assailed Mrs 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.

Mr 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 Mrs Clinton as far more prepared than Mr Trump to handle an international crisis - but they see Mr Trump as better able to tackle the ISIL threat.

Their rival styles were on display after a gunman unleashed an assault on a gay nightclub in Florida that left 50 people dead, reportedly after pledging allegiance to ISIL.

“If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the presidency,” Mr Trump thundered.

The former secretary of state trod more cautiously.

She declared Sunday’s attack “an act of terror” and an “act of hate”, and issued a statement saying Washington should redouble efforts to counter terror threats at home and abroad.

Mrs Clinton was to visit Ohio on Monday for her first rally since clinching the Democratic nomination. She is expected to address the Orlando tragedy then.

Obama was to join her Wednesday for a high-profile campaign appearance, but the event was postponed because of the shooting.

* Agence France-Presse