It was obvious even before the extent of the horror in Orlando was fully known that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had decided to make the massacre a major element of his general election campaign. He was on Twitter Sunday, just hours after the attack, claiming credit for having predicted more terror attacks by radical jihadis and calling for President Obama’s resignation.
On Monday, Trump went much, much further. He suggested, among other things, that Obama was somehow complicit in the attack. Trump also said that his likely Democratic opponent in the November election, Hillary Clinton, is expressly in favor of allowing terrorists into the country to kill Americans.
Given Trump’s remarkable series of pronouncements over the past 48 hours, it seems more than legitimate -- even necessary, in fact -- to ask members of the Republican Party who continue to insist that he is the best available presidential candidate whether they agree with the positions of their party’s de facto leader.
Here are six questions that any reporter who gets within shouting distance of a Republican lawmaker who has endorsed the billionaire former reality television star ought to be asking.
1. Do you believe that President Obama is willfully ignoring the threat of terrorism committed on U.S. soil? If so, what do you think his motivations are?
Trump, in multiple interviews Monday, implied very clearly that he thinks President Obama might be willfully ignoring the threat of terrorism from Islamic radicals, for reasons he left unclear. This is no small charge.
“He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable,” Trump said.
Later, he added, “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
2. Do you believe that Hillary Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists into the country?
Trump was pretty clear on this one. In a televised address on Monday afternoon, he said, “Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country — they enslave women, and murder gays.”
Republicans who worked with Clinton in the Senate, and the dozens who voted to confirm her appointment as secretary of state, should probably be asked what they know about Clinton’s apparent plan to facilitate terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
3. Do you believe that American Muslims are routinely sheltering terrorists?
Again, it would be difficult to read Trump’s comments on Monday as anything other than a claim that Muslim communities in the U.S. are sheltering terrorists who plan to launch attacks here.
“There are many, many people out there with worse intentions than this guy had -- worse,” Trump said Monday morning. “And people in his community in their community, they know who the people are. In some cases, they’re married to them. They know who these people are. Almost in every case they know who they are. They brag about it; they talk about it. People knew that this guy was going to create a bad act.”
4. Do you believe that there are “thousands” of terrorists like Orlando shooter Omar Mateen already in the U.S.?
In the same interview, the billionaire former reality television star claimed that the U.S. Muslim community is already sheltering not just a few potential terrorists, but “thousands” of them.
“You have thousands of shooters like this out there with the same mentality in this country,” he said in a lengthy interview with Fox News.
5. Do you believe it is possible to “perfectly” screen immigrants in a way that would prevent terrorists -- or the parents of potential terrorists -- from entering the country?
The United States is, by and large, one of the most open and diverse countries in the world. People of all racial, ethnic and geographic backgrounds travel in and out of the U.S. every day. In a speech delivered in New Hampshire Monday, Trump promised to institute a ban on non-citizen Muslims entering the country that would stay in place until “we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country. They are pouring in and we don’t know what we’re doing.”
He also seemed to suggest that, because the Orlando shooter was the child of Afghan immigrants, that the government ought to take steps to secure the country not just against immigrants themselves, but against the possibility that their children might grow up to be terrorists.
A presidential candidate promising “perfect” protection from terror is either a liar or someone willing to implement measures never before seen in this country. Trump’s supporters should be asked which one they believe he is.
6. Do you believe that there is in fact no current system for checking the background of refugees and other people who want to come to the United States?
Trump spent much of Monday reiterating his claim that the U.S. is regularly allowing tens of thousands of immigrants from around the world -- and particularly, given his concerns, from Muslim regions -- into the country with no scrutiny of their background or intentions.
In fact, refugees from countries like Syria, which Trump has targeted for particular concern, face a vetting process that takes more than a year, and in many cases longer. This is not secret information. It’s widely available.
If elected GOP leaders are going to continue claiming that Trump ought to be the next president of the United States, they really ought to be required to stand behind his claims.