This week's horrific terrorist attack in Brussels has the potential of changing the 2016 presidential election. The attack, which brings the number of terrorist attacks for the first three months of the year to 219, may increasingly lead European countries, and many Americans to become more isolationist in how they view the world.
The candidates were quick to respond to the news of the Brussels attack in terms consistent with their campaigns. Ted Cruz called on the military to “utilize the full force and fury of the United States.” Donald Trump remarked: “Do you all remember how beautiful and safe a place Brussels was. Not anymore, it is from a different world! U.S. must be vigilant and smart!” Hillary Clinton told the Today Show “We’ve got to tighten our security. I’ve talked about our visa system. … It’s unrealistic to simply say that we are going to completely shut down our borders.”
The day before the attacks, in comments to The Washington Post, Donald Trump had called for a reduction in U.S support to NATO. Ted Cruz attempted to connect Trump’s remarks to the bombings by saying, “It is striking the day after Donald Trump called for America weakening NATO, withdrawing from NATO, we see Brussels — where NATO is headquartered — the subject of a radical Islamic terrorist attack.” However, it is unlikely that the terrorists were paying attention to what Donald Trump was saying as they planned their horrific act.
ISIS claims responsibility
According to The New York Times the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 30 people and wounded hundreds more
The Wall Street Journal noted that the attacks came just four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdelsam who was believed to have been involved in the planning of the terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people last year. According to The New York Times the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 30 people and wounded hundreds more.
The effect on the 2016 election
The short-term political fall-out is likely to help Donald Trump, who has already called for a controversial halt to all Muslim immigration into the U.S., and Ted Cruz who has advocated for a stronger military response against ISIS. Trump’s anti-immigration stance, which has been a keystone of his campaign platform, was already set to give him a win in yesterday's Arizona primary and the Brussels terrorist attack may enhance support for his tough immigration policies.
Hillary Clinton may take a hit as she is identified as being a part of the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with ISIS, which many Republicans feel has been overly cautious. On the longer term, however, voters may find comfort in Clinton’s experience in foreign policy as Secretary of State. Just as she did after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, Hillary is likely to distance herself further from President Obama’s foreign policy on terrorism and take a tougher stand on ISIS and border security.
Donald Trump’s tough talk and anti-immigration platform are likely to find new support, particularly among Republican voters, after the attack. A Rasmussen Reports poll taken after the shootings in San Bernardino found that 46% of all voters supported Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim’s entering the U.S. while 40% opposed it. Among Republicans, 66% supported his proposal.
The terrible events in Brussels have shifted the American political discourse back to the topic of ISIS and terrorism. Sadly, there are likely to be more attacks like the one in Brussels in our future. Our next President will bear the responsibility of preventing and responding to such events.