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U.S. Presidential Candidates React To Terror Attacks In Brussels


The terrorist attacks in Belgium spurred quick reactions in this country from the presidential candidates.


HILLARY CLINTON: Well, we have to toughen our surveillance, our interception of communication...

DONALD TRUMP: I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on. Look what - look at Brussels. Look at...

TED CRUZ: This is not an isolated incident. This is not a lone wolf. This is a war with radical Islamic terrorism. ISIS has declared jihad.

SIEGEL: Hillary Clinton speaking on CNN today, Donald Trump on Fox News and Ted Cruz talking to reporters. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro has been looking at how the issue of terrorism is playing out the campaign. And he joins us now. Hiya.


SIEGEL: Let's start with Ted Cruz. He made a pretty strong proposal today. He called for law enforcement to be allowed to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods. How does Cruz's tough talk position him against Trump?

MONTANARO: Well - and, you know, he blamed a lot of this on political correctness (laughter) if we haven't heard that phrase before from somebody else who's running speaking of Donald Trump. And since the campaign began, you know, Republicans have said terrorism is their top concern. That's been true since the rise of ISIS more than a year ago.

Donald Trump seemed to benefit from those kind of gut appeals back in the fall when Paris first happened and then the San Bernardino shootings did. He said he wanted to bomb the something out of them, went further saying he'd ban all Muslims, at least temporarily.

Now you see Ted Cruz coming out with this kind of statement, perhaps not surprising given he's the only candidate within striking distance of Donald Trump for the nomination. And he doesn't want to let Trump be the sole voice on this. In other words, you know, he needs to try to out trump Trump.

SIEGEL: And what about the other presidential candidates? What have they said today?

MONTANARO: We heard reaction from John Kasich, who won Ohio last week and said that we shouldn't be dividing people. But he did criticize President Obama for being in Cuba and shaking hands with Raul Castro while all this is going on. The White House did say that the president was briefed and that he spoke with the prime minister of Belgium.

Hillary Clinton, as we heard earlier, pushed back on Trump. She said the borders, the way that Trump talks about them is impractical, said that - need to increase surveillance and modernize communications, intelligence sharing. And Bernie Sanders, we heard, talked about needing to stand with allies and the need for international communities to work together.

SIEGEL: The talk in the Republican Party today really contrasts with what happened in 9/11. Back then, President George W. Bush made a point of reaching out to Muslim communities. He warned people not to blame up Muslims broadly for terrorism that was carried out by extremists.

MONTANARO: Well, it's really amazing. Over the past 15 years, you've really had two strains within the Republican Party start to grow - on the one hand, people like George W. Bush, as you noted, and Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee for the Republicans, who tried to reduce tensions in Muslim communities. Bush went to a mosque a week after 9/11. Romney had said during that intense 2012 campaign that Islam is not inherently violent.

On the other hand, you've had people like Sarah Palin who was John McCain's vice presidential pick in 2008. She said in 2009 after the Fort Hood shooting that the problem was Obama being politically correct and not wanting to profile. And that set off a huge debate, not only within the party but within the country. And clearly in this election, what's won out this year is not the Bush-Romney side of things but the Palin-Trump-Cruz version.

SIEGEL: Do you think that version will play as well as we get closer to the general election as it's playing in the primaries?

MONTANARO: I mean, that's more unlikely. I mean, I think Republicans are hoping that the issue of terrorism winds up continuing to climb in concerns for independents and Democrats. At this point, you see things even like the Muslim ban not something that overall the country in support of. But Republicans, 59-60 percent in support of; the rest of the country, 60 percent the other direction.

SIEGEL: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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