An old maxim about public life has it that the most dangerous place on earth is between a politician and a camera. The list of potential sources includes senators, attorneys, and governors, but precious few examples of the stampede can be found in today’s world. Still, there are a few: one has to be mass-shootings. The assault on a school in Connecticut was supposed to be a game-changer that would force a recalcitrant Congress to get in gear and pass the kind of “common sense” gun safety laws advocates like President Obama have sought for years. The frustration over a stubborn legislature’s inaction built up so much that the president and some of his allies delivered a similar response to San Bernardino within hours of the attack. The White House managed to stay on target after the FBI acknowledged its investigation was focusing on terrorism by offering a gun sales ban aimed at people on the federal “no-fly” list. Among Republicans the parallel has to be terror. The presidential primary has unleashed a stream of tough-talk from GOP candidates; Texas senator Ted Cruz promised to “carpet bomb” the extremists, and later joked of discovering whether or not sand would glow in the dark. At first Donald Trump was willing to leave the fight to Russia, and at one point asked “what the hell do we care?”
The Trump terror platform has continued to evolve in light of attacks on Europe and the US. Its highlights are well known: the billionaire developer would “knock the hell out of ISIS,” take control of any available oil, waterboard the survivors, and set up a blanket ban on Muslim travel into the US “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Whether they amount to good, tough policy or cheap theatrics Trump’s plans have been a response to attacks like Paris and San Bernardino. The crash of EgyptAir flight 804 is a new wrinkle. Instead of letting messy things like investigations and in-flight data get in the way, Trump told the crowd at a rally in Lawrenceville, N.J. that the plane was “blown out of the sky.” While a panel on Fox News’ Hannity show discussed the crash they praised the presumptive Republican nominee for using the occasion to remind voters of the threat posed by ISIS; guest host Kimberly Guilfoyle characterized Trump’s theory as outreach to the 70 percent of women a Gallup poll found have a negative view of the Manhattan mogul because they have valid concerns about terrorism too.
The surprise twist is that Hillary Clinton followed along the trail blazed by a rival she has continued to label as an “unqualified loose cannon.” The one-time secretary of state was a bit less flamboyant, but agreed that the Airbus A320 was brought down by “an act of terrorism.” Her motivations remain unknown, but it’s no secret that ISIS could be a key campaign issue and that the erstwhile New York senator is regarded as more of a hawk than the president. In an attempt to rebrand herself ahead of November, the former first lady may be making a calculated attempt to burnish her credentials with voters to the right of Code Pink and Bernie Sanders. What is lost in the shuffle is that there are as many reasons now to doubt terrorist involvement in the crash as there are to believe in it. An important one is that neither ISIS or al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility. When a Russian Metrojet passenger flight went down over the Sinai peninsula last year, an ISIS affiliate took to Twitter to take credit before eventually posting pictures of the soda-can bomb behind the blast. Why is there no similar claim yet? It’s still too early to answer questions like that one, but it’s not too early to take political advantage of the confusion.