Will Orlando attack make Trump stronger?

LONDON, STANLY JOHNY:In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting carnage that left 49 people dead, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for November’s Presidential election, has stepped up his anti-Muslim rhetoric, apparently hoping to shape the election agenda around immigration and terror threat.

One of his first responses to the tragedy was to appreciate “the congrats” he got “for being right on radical Islamic terrorism”. In his view, the primary reason Omar Mateen, son of an Afghan immigrant, killed dozens of his fellow citizens in a night club in Orlando was that “we allowed his family to come here”. Speaking in New Hampshire on Monday, Mr. Trump reinforced his earlier proposal to ban all Muslims entering the U.S. In a TV interview, he questioned the sincerity of Barack Obama in fighting terror and even implied that the President secretly supports Islamist terrorists.

Such comments had helped him gain traction in the Republican primary race. Can Mr. Trump succeed if he peddles the same agenda in the general election?

Muslim ban proposal

The New York-based property mogul started openly targeting Muslims after last November’s Paris attack in which 130 people died. And his proposal to ban Muslims came days after the San Bernardino, California, shooting that killed 14. The suggestion did actually boost Mr. Trump’s popularity among the Republican voters. A poll tracker of FiveThirtyEight.com suggests that Mr. Trump’s approval among the Republicans rose by about 10 points in a month after the San Bernardino attack.

The ban proposal is still popular among the Republicans. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 64 per cent of Republicans support banning Muslims entering the U.S. At the national level, the suggestion has the support of 42 per cent. So the Trump campaign may be thinking that targeting the Muslim community in the aftermath of the Orlando attack may work in favour of the candidate.

But it need not be that simple. First, Mr. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn’t always raise his popularity. It worked after Paris and San Bernardino, but the Brussels terror attack this year did not have any radical impact on his campaign. This suggests that the far-right wing of the Republican voters had already moved to the Trump camp after San Bernardino.

Diverse electorate

Second, in the general election, Mr. Trump faces a much more diverse electorate whose concerns vary from economic woes to gun violence. In the Orlando attack, besides the terror angle, there are two other issues of national significance—gun violence and gay rights. The Republicans, including Mr. Trump, are steadfastly opposed to introducing stricter gun control norms, while the GOP leadership generally stays away from endorsing gay rights. It’s still not clear which of these issues will dominate discussions on Orlando. Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s rival in the general elections, has called for tougher gun control measures.

Third, Mr. Trump’s innuendos on President Obama may also not go down well with the non-Republican voters. Seven and a half years into his job, the President still has more than 50 per cent approval ratings. Personal attacks on the President will only make it easier for Ms. Clinton to rally his supporters behind her. Mr. Obama did actually launch a scathing attack on Mr. Trump on Tuesday denouncing his “dangerous mindset” and asking if the Republican leaders support their candidate’s proposals on Muslims.

It doesn’t mean that Mr. Trump will not gain further popularity using his rabble-rousing tactics. But it doesn’t look as easy for him to shape the agenda in the general election as he did in the Republican primaries.