Earlier today, Donald Trump phoned into Fox News and delivered his initial reaction to this morning's tragic events in Belgium where dozens of people were killed in a series of terrorist attacks on the Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station.
Needless to say, these type of catastrophes play right into Trump's hands. That's not to say he isn't genuinely perturbed and/or saddened by what happened. He probably is. But Trump has repeatedly proven to be far more savvy politically than anyone gives him credit for and one rule in politics is that you never, ever let a good crisis go to waste. Especially when your message is border security and the crisis in question has a definitive connection to migration.
"We cannot let these people into our country," Trump told Fox, referencing Muslims, who he says are "having a hard time assimilating" into Western society. "They have to let people know when they see people making bombs on the first floor of an apartment," he added for emphasis, in an apparent reference to the home of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino.
For Trump, Tuesday's attacks are partial vindication of comments he made in January about Belgium. The GOP frontrunner called Brussels a "hellhole" after the international media picked up on the fact that the Muslim enclave of Molenbeek was used as a staging ground for the attacks in Paris. "If you went into Brussels 20 years ago, it was like a magical city," he said this morning. "Not anymore," a twitter post reads.
Last week, Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was captured in Molenbeek after a firefight with police. Authorities contended that Abdeslam would provide officials with a wealth of information about Islamic State. You can expect Tuesday's attacks to be trotted out by critics as evidence that whatever interrogation tactics are being used on terrorists in the post-Abu Ghraib world aren't working. Or aren't working fast enough.
"Waterboarding would be fine and if they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding," Trump said Tuesday morning on NBC's Today, adding authorities "should be able to do whatever they have to do."
"Do you think suspects give useful rather than false information [when tortured]," NBC asked. "I'm in that camp," the Republican frontrunner responded.
Listen, he continued, "you have to get the information and you have to get it rapidly."
Trump didn't elaborate on what "a lot more than waterboarding" meant, and he did acknowledge that some "laws" around interrogation should be upheld. Still, "liberal" views on torture are holding back terror investigations, he contended.
Other presidential hopefuls weighed in on Tuesday as well. For her part, Hillary Clinton called Trump's suggestion that if something akin to Brussels were to happen in the US he would close the borders "unrealistic." That would stop commerce for example and that’s not in anybody’s interest," she told NBC.
These terrorists seek to undermine the democratic values that are the foundation of our way of life. They will never succeed. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 22, 2016
As for waterboarding, Clinton simply dismissed Trump's comments as vacuous. "Our country's most experienced and bravest military leaders will tell you that torture is not effective," she said, flatly, on ABC.
Perhaps Trump summed it up best: "We can’t be soft and weak... [that's] why I’m probably number-one in the polls."