Trump rises in wake of Paris attacks

Donald Trump has gained political strength since the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday, according to most of the polls released in the aftermath.

Trump’s gains show him once again confounding Beltway wisdom, where the widespread view was that such a grave event would lead voters to look toward White House candidates who are purportedly more mature and sophisticated than the erstwhile star of “The Apprentice.”

{mosads}Instead, it seems that Republican voters have found themselves drawn to Trump’s emphatic rhetoric.

“You have voters who are saying loudly and clearly that they want a strong leader to run our country, and that leader is Mr. Trump,” the business mogul’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told The Hill. “Some of the other candidates didn’t have that vision. … They have not had the foresight to predict these problems.”

Trump’s approach, which tends to be vigorous in tone but light on specifics, draws plenty of criticism even within the GOP.

“Trump makes up for his shortcomings with his force of personality,” said one Republican strategist in New Hampshire who did not want to be identified but is not working for any of Trump’s presidential rivals. “I don’t think that, on the global stage, you beat [Russian President Vladimir] Putin by offering up your own Putin, in terms of macho charisma. It’s far more involved than that.”

But many Republican voters seem to welcome Trump’s bravado after last week’s assault on French civilians that left 129 people dead. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the massacre.

In a WBUR poll of Republican voters in New Hampshire conducted just after the attacks, Trump’s support had risen 4 points from a similar poll released at the start of this month, and he was ahead of his closet rival, retired surgeon Ben Carson, by a 2-1 margin.

A poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University also found Trump way ahead of his Republican competitors in the Sunshine State. He scored 36 percent support, exactly twice the level of backing secured by second-placed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

And Trump’s strength isn’t just showing up in state-level “horse race” polls. 

A Reuters poll on Tuesday asked voters which of the candidates was best-suited to deal with the threat of terrorism. Among Republican voters, 36 percent opted for Trump. The next most popular response was “none,” at 17 percent. Rubio was again in second place in the survey among actual candidates, but he lagged Trump by 20 percentage points.

Voters’ views may yet shift as they absorb the implications of the Paris atrocity. But for now, Trump’s rhetoric seems to be striking a chord.

In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel on Tuesday evening, the real estate mogul insisted that U.S. mosques would have to be closed in response to the threat of terrorism.

“You’re going to have to do something,” he said. “Some bad things are happening and a lot of them are happening in the mosque and you’re going to have to do something.”

In radio ads released Wednesday in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — which hold the first three contests in the presidential nomination process — Trump insists, “We must address Islamic terrorism and protect our country first. I will lead by example, as I always have, by vowing to defeat ISIS, stop illegal immigration and the Syrian refugee program, secure our border and bring real change to Washington.”

At a rally Monday night in Knoxville, Tenn., he earned big cheers when he insisted, regarding ISIS that, “I’m going to bomb the s— out of them.”

Even Trump skeptics acknowledge that this style has populist appeal at moments of public anxiety.

“It’s true that his supporters see him as strong and they are not paying a lot of attention to the specifics of what he is saying,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “I think people are fearful. They don’t know what to believe but they certainly want a stronger response than [President] Obama has offered.”

But Mackowiak, who writes for The Hill’s Contributors blog, also argued that Trump and Carson would slide as the Paris attack, and possible dangers to the United States, remain in the headlines.

“My sense is that it disadvantages Trump and Carson over the medium-to-long term. Trump — you see it at the debates — he’s not even an inch deep” on foreign policy,” Mackowiak said.

The next Republican debate is almost a month away — scheduled for Dec. 15 in Nevada — and beyond that, there is only one more clash set to take place before the Iowa caucuses at the start of February.

That means Trump’s rivals may need to find other ways to knock him off his perch. On Wednesday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush delivered a defense-focused speech at The Citadel in South Carolina. 

Bush did not name Trump, but the reality TV star was clearly in his sights when he said that the Paris attacks “remind us … that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”

But such claims will need to resonate more powerfully than they have thus far if Bush is to have any chance. In the WBUR New Hampshire poll, the former governor was mired at 7 percent support, less than one-third of Trump’s 22 percent.

Little wonder, then, that Trump aides evince such confidence.

“If you look at the public polling as to who is strongest when it comes to defeating ISIS, Mr. Trump is the clear winner,” said Lewandowski. “These are not my assertions. These are what the polls say time and time again. People want a person who is strong leader.”

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