The five remaining presidential candidates used the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday morning to demonstrate their differing approaches to combating terrorism and managing international relations. This ran the full American gamut from sheer apocalyptic panic to banal expressions of solidarity.
Sen. Ted Cruz, lunging at the opportunity, hastily arranged a sidewalk press conference in Washington outside the studios of Fox News. He expressed sympathy with the victims before getting to the heart of the matter: trashing President Obama.
“It is long past time that we had a president that would acknowledge this evil, will call it by its name, and utilize the full force and fury of the United States to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, to defeat ISIS,” he said. That, of course, means a president who “sets aside political correctness. In the wake of Brussels, we don’t need another lecture from President Obama on Islamophobia.” He called on Obama to “immediately halt [his] ill-advised plan to bring in tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims refugees.” And in an (intentionally) inflammatory statement released later, Cruz’s campaign also described the “need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
Cruz also urged Obama to leave Cuba and either return stateside or travel to Brussels to stand with Belgium in solidarity. Ohio Gov. John Kasich seconded him, calling on Obama to “return home immediately and get to work with our allies to respond with strength against the enemies of the West.” A close between-the-lines reading suggests that Cruz and Kasich are saying this partly because they disagree with the administration’s efforts to reopen relations with Cuba. It should be said that Obama has access to a telephone, even while in Cuba.
Otherwise, Kasich’s response was more measured than Cruz’s. In a statement, the campaign said that the United States should “strengthen our alliances as our way of life and the international system that has been built on our common values since the end of the Second World War comes under challenge from these and other actors of evil.”
Kasich wants to strengthen alliances and cooperate with partners to root out extremism. Cruz wants to turn “Muslim neighborhoods” into a police state. Donald Trump, as Slate’s Jordan Weissmann writes at length, expressed a desire on various shows Tuesday morning to bomb, close the borders (or maybe just have “strong borders”), and torture everyone. Come up with any inadvisably knee-jerk reaction to a terrorist attack that you can think of, and Donald Trump likely expressed it on national television before your second cup of coffee this morning.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton stated her sympathy with the victims and expressed her belief that “radical jihadism” will ultimately be eliminated. “Terrorists have once again struck at the heart of Europe, but their campaign of hate and fear will not succeed,” her campaign said in a statement. “The people of Brussels, of Europe, and of the world will not be intimidated by these vicious killers. Today Americans stand in solidarity with our European allies.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and wounded, and all the people of Belgium,” the statement continued. “These terrorists seek to undermine the democratic values that are the foundation of our alliance and our way of life, but they will never succeed. Today’s attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world.”
The campaign of Bernie Sanders, who just Monday outlined his Middle East policy, issued a similar statement expressing sympathy and his belief that terrorism must be stopped. “We offer our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this barbaric attack and to the people of Brussels who were the target of another cowardly attempt to terrorize innocent civilians,” the statement read. “We stand with our European allies to offer any necessary assistance in these difficult times. Today’s attack is a brutal reminder that the international community must come together to destroy ISIS. This type of barbarism cannot be allowed to continue.”