Donald Trump is absolutely convinced that the key to counter-terrorism is religion-specific rhetoric. Somehow, if officials ignore the conclusions reached by the Bush and Obama administrations, and repeatedly use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” then Americans will magically be safer.
It’s a child-like approach to national security, but according to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, it’s also the pillar of his campaign’s counter-terrorism policy.
And as of today, Trump believes he’s won over a high-profile convert: Hillary Clinton. The GOP candidate boasted this morning that the former Secretary of State “just broke” and “said she would now use” the phrasing that makes Republicans happy.
Politico seemed willing to play along, publishing a provocative headline: “Clinton breaks from Obama, calls Orlando attack ‘radical Islamism.’”
Is this true? Not exactly.
On NBC’s “Today” show, co-host Savannah Guthrie reminded Clinton this morning about Trump’s interest in word choice and asked why she doesn’t use the language the right is so desperate to hear. Here’s the full response, according to the transcript:
“Well, look, I think Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name calling and from my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say. It matters that we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. But if he is somehow suggesting I don’t call this for what it is, he hasn’t been listening.“I have clearly said that we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism, and we will. And to me, ‘radical jihadism,’ ‘radical Islamism,’ I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point. All this talk and demagoguery and rhetoric is not going to solve the problem.“I’m not going to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion. That’s just plain dangerous and it plays into ISIS’s hands.”
For Trump, some pundits, and some of Clinton’s progressive detractors, this was apparently some kind of dramatic rhetorical shift. I didn’t hear it that way.
Far from endorsing Trump’s rhetoric-first approach, it actually seemed like Clinton was taking the opposite line, explaining that the preoccupation with rhetoric is pointless and that picking the right partisan phrasing doesn’t make any substantive difference.
And while Trump is intent on basing his candidacy on anti-Muslim animus, Clinton also explained – accurately – that this is precisely what ISIS wants Western politicians to do, and she knows better.
It the Republican candidate thinks he’s somehow badgered Clinton into adopting his preferred framing, he seems to have the entire story backwards.