One of the narratives emerging from the immediate aftermath of the bombing in Manhattan Saturday night is that Donald Trump was not appropriately cautious and circumspect in his response. This is a tactic used against Mitt Romney in September 2012 in the days following the Benghazi attacks.
More on 2012 later, let’s first look at Trump’s words Saturday night, compare them to Clinton’s response and then analyze the media fall-out.
At a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, CO, Trump told his audience “Just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”
“I must tell you that just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on. But boy, we are living in a time—we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough. Just happened. So we’ll find out. It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our world, and in our country, and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant. And we’re gonna end it. We’re gonna end it. So, we’ll see what it is.”
This was at a time when no public official or law enforcement officer had made a public proclamation that the explosion was linked to a bomb.
However, multiple accounts of people on the scene said they saw the explosion come from a trash can. Journalists were Tweeting that law enforcement sources told them the explosion was caused by a device. Anyone who was paying attention to the coverage (which only occurred on Fox News because CNN and MSNBC were determined to show more important “news” like President Barack Obama
yelling at delivering a speech at the Congressional Black Caucus gala) knew the explosion was not a gas leak or some other accidental event. How many gas leaks come from a trash can?
The criticism from the media and partisans was swift, as Jay Caruso points out over at RedState.
Mrs. Clinton then delivered a near-somnambulant statement about the bombings from her campaign plane. Watch it here, if you can manage to stay awake:
Hillary Clinton, on her campaign plane, responds to explosion in NYC pic.twitter.com/4tfyUE2vNc
— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) September 18, 2016
“I’ve been briefed about the bombings in New York and New Jersey, and the attack in Minnesota. Obviously, we need to do everything we can to support our first responders. Also to pray for the victims. We have to let this investigation unfold. We’ve been in touch with various officials through the mayor’s office in New York to learn what they are discovering as they conduct this investigation. I’ll have more to say about it when we actually know some facts.”
Notice a couple things here. First, she says she had been briefed on “the bombings” and then the first question to Mrs. Clinton from a sharp-eyed reporter is for her to react to Donald Trump calling the explosion a “bomb” earlier in the evening. Hey Penelope Pulitzer, your gal JUST CALLED IT A BOMBING HERSELF!
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, watch that video again. I ask this question completely non-rhetorically: Is she on something?
I mean, seriously, if we are supposed to be judging what our potential next president is saying in the aftermath of this bombing incident, can’t we also judge how they’re saying it? Is this Clinton’s interpretation of being somber and serious? Because she appears to have just been woken up from a deep sleep. The first thought I had when I saw this had more to do with the obvious benefits of Ambien, not a strong and decisive Commander-in-Chief.
— Larry O'Connor (@LarryOConnor) September 18, 2016
So, follow along with the media narrative, because this is important.
- Bomb goes off in Manhattan. This after a multiple stabbing incident in Minnesota at the hands of a Somali screaming “Alluha Akar” and after a pipe bomb explodes earlier the same day during a Marine Corps. 5K run on the coast of New Jersey.
- Trump refers to the “bomb” exploding in New York while addressing a rally in Colorado
- Within minutes reporters call out the GOP candidate for rushing to judgement over the not-at-all mysterious explosions.
- The Dem nominee takes that ball and runs with it by chastizing Trump for not being appropriately circumspect.
- Bottom line: Trump was right! (apparently the quarrel is that he should not have been so fast with his correct conclusion, or something.)
Does any of this sound familiar?
It should. It’s right out of their playbook from 2012.
Here’s how the Washington Post covered the situation at the time:
Statements that the Republican presidential nominee made slamming President Obama led to a day of tumult for Romney, with leading voices in his party criticizing him and his top aides scrambling to prevent further damage.
The situation started Tuesday night, with Romney accusing Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world — a common line of attack from the Republican.
But the timing of the statement — in the middle of the ongoing incidents in Libya and Egypt — led to an outburst of criticism that built as the night went on and intensified after Romney reiterated the charge at a hastily staged news conference here Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation,” Romney told reporters. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”
Minutes after Romney’s news conference, inside a small campaign office in a drab Jacksonville strip mall, a door down from the Blazin Reptiles exotic pet shop, Obama addressed the nation surrounded by the grandeur of his office. In the Rose Garden, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side and the White House behind him, the president mourned the loss of American lives and vowed that “justice will be done.”
Obama making his statement “surrounded by the grandeur of his office” was no accident. It was meant to convey that he was responsible and in charge and not leaping to conclusions or criticism like that loose cannon Mitt Romney had done. Yes, they actually tried and in some ways were succesful in painting Mitt Romney as a “loose cannon!”
The narrative continued all week. And the narrative was supported by the worst lie of the 2012 campaign.
Let’s be clear about Romney’s criticism of the Obama Administration. He was admonishing the State Department (under Hillary Clinton’s leadership) for apologizing to the “Arab Street” over the infamous YouTube video depicting Mohammed in an unfavorable way.
Here is what the American emassy in Egypt said that Romney took issue with:
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Obama and Clinton hammered Romney about his condemnation and the media played along. They attacked Romney mercilessly for getting out in front of the story and using the riots to make a political point. By the morning of September 12, the attack on Romney had an even greater impact with the death of four Americans in Benghazi, including the American Amassador to Libya.
However, the attack on Romney would only resonate if, in fact, he had no basis for attacking the State Department’s condemnation of the YouTube video. In other words, the Benghazi murders needed to be linked to the video. The YouTube had to be the reason behind the deaths for Romney to look bad. And so… well, you know what happened next.
The narrative against Romney for being to quick-triggered to be Commander-in-Chief continued all that week:
“There’s a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later, and as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that,” Obama said in an interview with CBS News on Wednesday. “It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”
When asked if he found Romney’s statement “irresponsible,” Obama responded, “I’ll let the American people judge that.”
So now, they are trying it again. They’re trying to paint Trump as irresponsible and that he “shoots first and aims later.” We’ve seen this game before and Hillary’s just not very good at it. But, that didn’t keep the media from trying their best.
Here’s Jake Tapper, Sunday on CNN:
TAPPER: “As a general note, do you think politicians should wait until more information comes in, and should they defer to local official and investigators?”
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: “Well, listen, I don’t think you have to defer when saying there was an explosion and a bomb in New York. I mean, everybody knew that. It was being reported in television, so there’s a difference.”
“Now, you shouldn’t attribute it to any particular organization or group if you don’t have the facts or information to do that. But I think that what Donald did was perfectly appropriate to tell that group in Colorado Springs a bomb exploded. This is typical of Mrs. Clinton. She has absolutely no basis to be critical of what he did yesterday.”
It should also be noted that when CNN presented the 2 presidential responses to Gov. Christie (and the American people) during this segment, they edited out the portion of Clinton’s remarks where she refers to the explosions as bombings.
Tapper, for his part, did not take a stand one way or the other and merely asked the Governor if politicians should wait until investigators make official statements. He received a lot of push back (unfair, in my opinion) and true to his nature, he engaged the criticisms head-on:
he didn't. They both said bomb. That wasn't the question. I asked about speaking on it before local officials had done so.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 19, 2016
However, I think Tapper is, in part, the victim of his own network’s day-long decision to not play the segment of Clinton’s remarks where she uses the word “bombings” thus making it appear that Trump was irresponsile for jumping to that conclusion.
But, here’s the crux of this issue which seems lost on the media and the Democrats trying to make the case that Trump “shoots first and aims later”: He was right!
And in the case of Romney in 2012, HE was right!
But, after the continuous pounding of the news cycle and the memorized narrative, the truth doesn’t matter. The candidate gets defined exactly how the media chooses to do so, and in this case it favors the Democrat. However, it only works if the candidate is vulnerable to such an attack and it works if the Democrat (in this case, Mrs. Clinton) can show such poise and reasoned leadership to focus a stark contrast in responses from a leader at a time of crisis.
In this case, I believe, Trump is immune from being defined in this way since so many other negative things have been said about him (for crying out loud, Clinton basically called him a Klansman a few weeks ago.) Additionally, Clinton’s appearance was so devastatingly tranquil – appearing almost bored by the topic of a bomb in midtown Manhattan – that she hardly makes the case for strong leadership compared to the GOP nominee.