Trump and Clinton responses to New York bombing prompt fierce debate

  • Christie says Trump’s early labelling of blast as ‘bomb’ was ‘appropriate’
  • Kaine: aftermath is ‘important time where you have to have experience’

Saturday night’s bombing on 23rd Street in New York brought questions of experience and temperament to the fore in the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, after the Republican seized on the explosion to argue the US is in peril.

At a campaign rally in Colorado on Saturday night, Trump declared the explosion to have been caused by a bomb, hours before police voiced any public conclusions. “Just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on,” Trump said.

The Trump campaign has not said whether the businessman received information privately from New York officials or was speculating without evidence. In contrast, Clinton did what most officials do after an uncertain and dangerous incident: urge caution and patience for conclusions from police.

“I think it’s important to know the facts about any incident like this,” she told reporters on her campaign plane. “That’s why it’s critical to support the first responders, the investigators who are looking into it trying to determine what did happen.

“I think it’s also wiser to wait until you have information before making conclusions because we are just in the beginning stages of trying to determine what happened.”

Two hours after Trump’s remarks, New York mayor Bill de Blasio described the bombing, which injured 29 people, as “an intentional act”. But De Blasio, NYPD commissioner James O’Neill and Governor Andrew Cuomo all stressed on Sunday that they have not found evidence so far of any link to international terrorism and are considering any suspect and motive.

On Sunday afternoon, Clinton called the bombing one of three “apparent terrorist attacks” alongside pending investigations into pipe bombs in New Jersey and a mass stabbing in Minnesota. The FBI is investigating the stabbing as a “potential terrorist attack”; police have ascribed no motive or suspect to the pipe bombs, which officials said on Sunday had not been established to be linked to the New York explosion.

“I pray for all of those who were wounded, and for their families,” Clinton said in a statement. “Once again, we saw the bravery of our first responders who run toward danger to help others. Their quick actions saved lives.”

Clinton then reiterated her outline for an anti-terror plan, including an “intelligence surge to help identify and thwart attacks” and “work with Silicon Valley to counter propaganda”. Both Clinton and Trump’s proposals largely mirror the counter-terrorism priorities of Barack Obama, who has waged a bombing campaign abroad and authorized extensive surveillance online.

Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, argued that his running mate has hard-earned experience in such crises.

“Hillary Clinton was New York senator on 9/11 and was there at the World Trade Centers,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “They were still looking for survivors. And she’s been through this. It’s been a searing experience in her life. And she was part of the national security team that worked together to revive the hunt and wipe out [Osama] bin Laden.

“And so it is an important time where you have to have experience.”

Asked if the threat of violence, whether through bombings, mass shootings or terror, was “a new normal”, Kaine said: “I don’t accept that. We don’t know yet about the cause of these incidents. But we’re not allowing it to be a normal.”

Kaine also spoke of the US campaign against Islamic State, although the terror group has not claimed responsibility for the explosion. “The challenge is, as Isis realizes that they’re losing ground, then they see whether they can exploit weaknesses elsewhere,” he said.

On Sunday Trump only acknowledged the bombing only with a tweet, writing: “I would like to express my warmest regards, best wishes and condolences to all of the families and victims of the horrible bombing in NYC.”

His ally Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, was markedly more cautious than the Republican nominee when asked about the bombing on Sunday. A pipe bomb exploded in the New Jersey town of Seaside on Saturday, and though police say they have found no connection between that explosion and New York’s, they were investigating any possible link.

“We don’t believe at this time that there is evidence connecting it to the attacks in New York or Minnesota,” Christie told CNN, referring to a stabbing at a mall in St Cloud in which eight people were wounded and the suspect, who reportedly made reference to Allah, was shot dead. “We have some promising leads, but no suspects at this time.”

“You don’t want to jump to conclusions,” he added. “And you don’t want to put information out there that you don’t know is absolutely true.”

The site of the explosion in Manhattan.

But despite this admonition Christie defended Trump’s decision to describe the explosion as a bombing long before there was any evidence to do so.

“I think that what Donald did was perfectly appropriate to tell that group in Colorado Springs that a bomb had exploded,” Christie said.

“I don’t think you have to defer when saying that there was an explosion and a bomb in New York. I mean, everybody knew that. It was being reported on television.”

Most news networks were careful to say that police did not know the cause of the explosion at the time.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has spoken of America in almost dystopian terms, describing it – often with false or misleading statements – as a “divided crime scene” where refugees are a “Trojan horse” for terrorism, police are endangered and murder and unemployment on the rise.

He has also reacted in unpredictable ways in the aftermath of horrific events, for instance after the mass shooting in Orlando in June, when he thanked people for “the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism”.

Christie echoed Trump’s dark vision of the US on Sunday, and blamed Clinton and Barack Obama for it.

“It’s because of her type of leadership over the last eight years,” he said, “along with the president, that the world is a much more dangerous place.”

Clinton contrasted that message in her own statement, saying: “Americans have faced threats before, and our resilience in the face of them only makes us stronger. I am confident we will once again choose resolve over fear.”


Alan Yuhas

The GuardianTramp

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