During Saturday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton raised a familiar concern that has a lot of merit: Donald Trump’s bigoted rhetoric has the effect of helping America’s enemies. We need to make sure, Clinton said at the debate, that Trump’s more hateful rhetoric doesn’t “fall in receptive ears” abroad.
“He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” the Democratic frontrunner added. “They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”
The syntax got a little garbled, but it sounded as if Clinton was saying there are already ISIS videos in circulation featuring Trump’s rhetoric. Since that does not appear to be the case, Trump is demanding an apology.
That’s not going to happen.
A spokesman for Hillary Clinton says “hell, no,” the candidate won’t apologize to Donald Trump for calling him “ISIS’ best recruiter.”“Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps ISIS recruit more terrorists,” said spokesman Brian Fallon in a statement.
It’s worth unpacking this a bit, because the entire story helps capture just how odd this year’s presidential race really is.
First, let’s focus on the substance. Trump’s whining notwithstanding, the truth of the matter is Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is noticed abroad and has been utilized by radicals. Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, recently explained to NBC News that Middle Eastern radicals “love” Trump “from the sense that he is supporting their rhetoric. They follow everything Donald Trump says. When he says, ‘No Muslims should be allowed in America,’ they tell people, ‘We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.’”
Clinton could have worded this better, but her underlying point is sound: Trump is providing rhetorical ammunition to America’s enemies. There’s ample evidence to bolster the argument.
Second, the lack of self-awareness surrounding Trump’s complaints is astounding, even for him. Without a hint of irony, the Republican frontrunner said this afternoon, in reference to Clinton’s debate comments, “There is no video.” Seriously? Wasn’t the reality-based community using the same four words when Trump claimed he saw imaginary video of thousands of American Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey?
Third, Trump may not realize this, but for a guy who’s preoccupied with “strength” and “toughness,” watching him whine about Hillary Clinton hurting his feelings isn’t exactly consistent with the image he works so hard to project.
Finally, note that the fight itself is exactly the kind of showdown Clinton and her team want to have. It’s to their benefit to treat Trump like the Republican nominee, and offer a preview of the kind of general-election fight they’d love to have – with the Democrat on the offensive, and the Republican waiting for an apology that will never arrive.