Pipe bomb attacks and stabbings have the nation on edge over homegrown terrorism one week before Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE hit the stage for their first presidential debate.
NBC anchor Lester Holt, who will moderate the debate on Sept. 26, announced Monday that “securing America” will be one of the night’s primary topics.
Both campaigns believe that plays to their strengths, with Clinton touting her steadiness and experience and Trump his strength on immigration and unwavering commitment to facing uncomfortable truths about Islam.
In television interviews and at press conferences and rallies on Monday, the candidates framed the debate in existential and historic terms.
“In the 20th century, the U.S. defeated fascism, Nazism and communism,” Trump said at a late afternoon rally in Fort Myers, Fla. “Now we must defeat radical Islamic terrorism.”
They also took turns blaming the other for fostering the conditions that led to the terrorist attacks.
Clinton quoted a counter-terrorism expert who has said that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “rooting” for a Trump presidency — an allegation that Trump turned back on her when he said terrorists are “hoping and praying” for a Clinton White House “so that they can continue their savagery and murder.”
Recruiters for the ISIS are turning Trump’s rhetoric — like his call to ban Muslims from entering the country — into a recruitment tool, Clinton told reporters in White Plains, N.Y.
“We know that a lot of rhetoric we’ve heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS, because they’re looking to make this into a war against Islam rather than a war against jihadists,” Clinton said.
It’s an argument that dovetails with past Democratic attacks against Trump as reckless, dangerous and a bigot.
Trump fired back, accusing Clinton of destabilizing the Middle East as secretary of State and “creating the vacuum that led to the founding of ISIS.”
“She very much caused the problem,” Trump said at the Florida rally, leaving his prepared remarks on the teleprompter. “When you think about it, her weakness and ineffectiveness caused the problem, and now she wants to be president. I don’t think so.”
ISIS claims to have inspired the Somali man who stabbed nine people at a Minnesota mall over the weekend before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
A U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan was arrested after a firefight on Monday in connection with bombings in New York and New Jersey. It’s not clear whether there was any connection between the man and foreign terrorist groups.
Trump has made the threats of terrorism and lax immigration laws the twin pillars of his insurgent campaign.
During the Republican primaries, Trump rose in the polls after terror attacks in France and in San Bernardino, Calif. His controversial call for a ban on Muslims entering the country has been ridiculed by Washington insiders and national security experts, but polls show a majority of the public is open to the idea.
On Monday, Trump lambasted the immigration system that he said allowed Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect arrested for the bombings, to get into the country.
“These attacks and many others were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system that fails to properly vet or screen the individuals and families coming into our country,” Trump said.
He encouraged law enforcement officials to consider racial profiling to stop potential terrorists and warning that under a Clinton administration, “tens of thousands” of potential terrorists would flood into the country from dangerous parts of the world through refugee resettlement programs.
“The only thing we can expect from a Hillary Clinton presidency is more attacks on our homeland and more innocent Americans being hurt and killed,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
At her press conference, Clinton said she supports “tough vetting” but accused Trump of raising the issue in a way that disparages “millions and millions of naturalized citizens in America from all over the world,” including “millions of law abiding and peaceful Muslims.”
Trump sought to frame the debate around terrorism as one of individual strength, saying that these kinds of attacks will continue unless the U.S. elects a strong leader.
Trump blasted the culture of political correctness he said has hamstrung U.S. efforts to combat terror and mocked Clinton for using the term “determined enemies” instead of “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president,” Trump said.
That’s a political battle the Clinton campaign is eager to have.
Clinton has long sought to cast Trump as too erratic to be in charge of the U.S. military. Polls show a majority of Americans don’t view Trump as presidential — a major hurdle the GOP nominee must overcome if he’s going to win the White House.
“It’s wrong to put a loose cannon in charge who can start another war,” Clinton told a group of millennials at Temple University in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.
Clinton is struggling to energize the young voters that made up a key portion of the Obama coalition and had planned to focus on outreach to that demographic on Monday before the events over the weekend caused her to shift to national security.
Clinton argued that her experience as secretary of State makes her better suited to be commander in chief and played up support from Republican military officials who are supporting her over Trump.
“I’m the only candidate in this race who has been part of the hard decisions to take terrorists off the battlefield,” she said at the morning press conference. “I won’t get into classified information, but I’ve sat at that table in the situation room. I’ve analyzed the threats and contributed to action that have neutralized our enemies. I know how to do this.”