This week’s horrific terrorist attacks on the Brussels airport and metro raised the pressure in the already tight U.S. presidential campaign. Candidates of both parties were instantly measured against voter expectations of how a president could and should behave in a similar crisis. Meanwhile, it was jarring to see a beaming President Obama relaxing at a Cuban baseball game, while grisly photos of the wrecked terminal and dazed, bloodied victims in Belgium were on steady media feed all over the world.
Given that most people, sequestered at their workplace, were unable to monitor the full range of responses throughout the day, the candidate who emerged on top was almost certainly Donald Trump. Despite his alarming enthusiasm for waterboarding and torture, Trump’s central campaign theme of securing the borders and more stringently vetting immigrants was strengthened by the events in Brussels, a historic city whose changing demographics he had already controversially warned about. Trump’s credibility would be enhanced if he treated the vital immigration issue in general policy terms rather than divisively singling out specific groups (Mexican, Muslim), the majority of whom are manifestly law-abiding.
Hillary Clinton’s Brussels response was basically boilerplate, calling for solidarity with Europe and playing chess with Trump to paint him as a greenhorn and hothead. Bernie Sanders (whom I support and contribute to) had little to say, beyond conveying condolences to the Belgian people, because foreign affairs have unfortunately remained a sideline for him. Neither Sanders nor Martin O’Malley ever went after Hillary’s disastrous record as Secretary of State with the tenacity that they should have—a failure of strategy that has proved costly in the long run.