The American People Think Donald Trump Is Weak on Terror

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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives to officially open his Trump Turnberry hotel and golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland on June 24, 2016
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Shortly after the massacre in San Bernardino last fall, Donald Trump assured a frightened nation that everything was going to be okay for Donald Trump.

Whenever there’s a tragedy, everything goes up, my numbers go way up because we have no strength in this country,” the GOP nominee told CNN. “We have weak, sad politicians.”

After Omar Mateen murdered 49 people in an Orlando nightclub, Trump once again struck a triumphant note.

Most pundits found Trump’s victory lap unseemly but still suspected he had a real reason to celebrate: In recent years, the American electorate has preferred Republican authoritarians to liberal technocrats on matters of national security. Thus, the angry orange tycoon’s chances of taking the White House would, presumably, increase in the wake of this latest ISIS-flavored atrocity. But a new Washington Post–ABC News poll suggests that the more terrified Americans become, the less interested they are in giving the nuclear codes to a former reality star.

The survey finds that 50 percent of voters trust Clinton more than Trump to “handle terrorism,” while only 39 percent say the reverse. Last month, before the attacks in Orlando, those numbers were 47 and 44, respectively.

And the widening gap appears to be a direct result of the two politicians’ divergent responses to that attack. After expressing his gratitude for all the “congrats,” the Republican nominee suggested Barack Obama might be an ISIS sympathizer, then renewed his call for a blanket ban on all Muslim immigration and called on Americans to stockpile weapons for their own self-defense. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, suggested that discriminating against Muslims on the basis of their religion would not be the best way to defend American values and counter ISIS propaganda. Rather, Clinton vowed to defeat lone-wolf terrorists by spending (even) more money on intelligence so as to (ostensibly) expand surveillance of potential terrorists — but not in an explicitly discriminatory manner.

The PostABC News poll shows that Americans found the latter approach more pleasing. Only 28 percent of respondents said Trump “did a better job of responding” to the Orlando shooting than Clinton, while 46 percent said the reverse. Similarly, 53 percent said Clinton gave them “more confidence” that she could handle a terror attack as president, while only 34 percent said the same of Trump.

Notably, the public has more faith in Trump’s policy proposals, such as they are, than they do in the man himself.

By a margin of 48 to 40 percent, voters agree with Trump that political leaders should say terror attacks are caused by “radical Islam,” even if that might legitimize terrorists’ claims that “their actions are supported by Islamic teachings.”

What’s more, 54 percent of the country thinks Trump was right to encourage Americans to fight terrorism through personal gun ownership (if you see something, shoot something). And while most Americans opposed Trump’s Muslim ban, a full 43 percent said they would support it.

The most popular proposal of all is one on which Clinton and Trump seem to agree: banning gun sales to anyone on the terror watch list, a policy disdained by the ACLU (and certain bloggers), but cheered by 86 percent of the public.

Thus, voters seem to be less alarmed by what Trump says than by how he says it. It turns out the American people find a former secretary of State calmly laying out a detail-oriented plan for reducing terrorism to be more comforting than a real-estate mogul shouting that the nation must chose between his radical agenda and certain doom: 59 percent of Americans say Clinton showed a “better temperament” in response to Orlando; only 25 percent said the same about the GOP nominee.