Candidates offer 'solidarity' and criticism after Brussels attack

People walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Within hours of the fatal terrorist attacks in Belgium Tuesday morning, presidential candidates offered statements and reactions to the brutal assaults that claimed the lives of more than 20 people.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump began the morning conducting phone interviews with major news networks such as Fox and CBS News. Trump tweeted about Brussels, remarking on how "beautiful and safe," the city had been.

"U.S. must be vigilant and smart!" Trump suggested.

RELATED | Belgium soccer team cancels practice after Brussels attacks

Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich also offered his thoughts, sharing a statement on his Twitter account.

"I want to express my solidarity with the people of Belgium in the aftermath of the attacks that took place in Brussels," Kasich's statement read.

RELATED | Expert: What Presidential candidates need to do to help reassure the public on terrorism

Saying he was "sickened by the pictures of carnage, by the injuries and by the loss of life," Kasich said the wave of terror that has been "unleashed," are "attacks against our very way of life and against the democratic values upon which our political systems have been built."

On his Facebook page, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz shared a statement describing the attacks as "no isolated incidents."

"They are just the latest in a string of coordinated attacks by radical Islamic terrorists perpetrated those who are waging war against all who do not accept their extreme strain of Islam," Cruz wrote.

RELATED | In Cuba, Obama briefed on Brussels attacks

During a phone interview with The Today Show, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton addressed the attacks.

Clinton told The Today Show that "we've got to stand in solidarity with our European allies."

"We've got to be absolutely smart and strong and steady in how we respond," Clinton said.

Bernie Sanders released a statement from Flagstaff, Arizona later Tuesday morning. Offering his campaigns "deepest condolences," Sanders described the attacks as "barbaric."

"Today's attack is a brutal reminder that the international community must come together to destroy ISIS," Sanders' statement read.

"This type of barbarianism cannot be allowed to continue."

The prompt reactions, especially from GOP candidates, came as no surprise to Joshua Woods, Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University and author of Freaking Out: A Decade of Living with Terrorism.

"It is not surprising to see presidential candidates Trump and Cruz react to the latest attacks so quickly across a wide variety of social and traditional media outlets," Woods said.

"The increased public concerns about terrorism will no doubt provide legitimacy and coherence to a number of their policy proposals, from the issues of immigration and border security to international relations."

"I think that it would be considered indecisive or show a lack of leadership to not respond quickly to something like this," explained Stanley Feldman, Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University.

Feldman noted that indecision is a trait no presidential candidate wants to show "in the face of terrorism."

Woods explained that "when people fear terrorism they become more submissiveness to moral authorities, they identify more with powerful figures, and they are more likely to reject outsiders or anyone who is different."

"These authoritarian tendencies, which were reinforced after 9/11, have fueled the rise of presidential candidates Trump and Cruz."

Observing the brutality of the attacks, Woods speculated that Trump and Cruz are unlikely to face rebuke for capitalizing on the events unfolding in Brussels, noting that "it's difficult to put the threat of terrorism in context."

"Trump and Cruz are not likely to be critiqued as opportunistic in their strident reactions in the face of such dreadful imagery."

"I don't think there's that much to risk given their position right now," Feldman agreed.

Describing how Cruz and Trump are basically competing for Republican voters at this point, Feldman explained that in the Republican primary electorateattacking Obama is "not likely to be at all risky."

Feldman said it was no surprise that they would use the attacks in Brussels "as an opportunity to cast dispersion towards Obama," and indirectly to former Obama Secretary of State Clinton.

In attacking the President, Feldman said, the candidates are making the suggestion that Obama "and possibly by implication, Clinton" aren't doing enough to keep us safe."

This is a suggestion that will play well with the Republican electorate, Feldman noted, adding that there's "no negative consequence," in immediately using this as an opportunity to attack Obama."

Woods was confident that all presidential candidates "are aware that the public's concern about terrorism represents something greater than a temporary emotional reaction." He explained that "the threat of terrorism is a consistent perception in American eyes, and reacting to it with fear and anger has become part of our culture."

Describing the recent attacks in Paris, the most recent in Brussels and the not-so-long ago attacks in San Bernardino Feldman observed that many people can still "vividly remember," the attacks on September 11th. There is, Feldman, observed a "lingering sense," that The United States is vulnerable to these types of attacks. Even though these attacks are occurring across an ocean in Europe, Feldeman said they raise the specter that they could happen in the U.S..

People, Feldman explained, look to their elected officials and their president for a strong response and an assurance that everything possible is being done to protect people.

It doesn't take much to "arouse people's sense of insecurity," Feldman said, but providing that reassurance is a far greater challenge.

"It's difficult, it's really is difficult," Feldman remarked, conceding that in reality 'there's probably nothing anyone can do to eliminate the likelihood," of an attack.

In this situation, Feldman said, some could take an extreme approach such as Trump's: that under these circumstances it makes sense not to allow any Muslims to be U.S. citizens. "That will appeal to some people who see Paris [and] Brussels as examples of the threat of allowing people who they see as fundamentalists," into the country.

Feldman noted that whether or not that proposal is sensible and practical is debatable, adding that regardless, with some people that argument will resonate.

Trump's proposal, Feldman conceded, is a "perfect line in a situation like this." Citing exit polling in which voters had expressed support for Trump's proposal, Feldman noted that the proposed ban on Muslims immigration does resonate with a lot of people.

"People support Trump's proposal," Feldman said describing how when they look at what is unfolding in Europe and what occurred in San Bernardino the proposed ban looks like a good solution "negative consequences aside."

"I think that this plays exactly to his strengths," Feldman said of Trump, explaining that Trump is the candidate willing to stake out these extreme positions.

"These sorts of events play exactly to his strengths," Feldman reiterated.

Feldman stressed that the "thing to appreciate is just how difficult it is to manage the sense of anxiety, especially in a situation like this."

When no one can guarantee people that everyone is going to be safe, Feldman explained, it makes it difficult for people to deal with.

To reassure voters, Woods stressed the importance of a "useful political discussion of terrorism needs," which he suggested "needs to include three statements about the problem."

The first was comparing terrorism to other dangers facing the American people while referring to the threat it poses.

Second, is noting that "terrorism is not a Muslim thing."

"We should not treat it as one; focusing attention on religious extremism places a harmful stigma on Muslims, and distracts the public from the underlying causes of terrorism, which are political and economic in nature," Woods said.

The third statement Woods highlighted is the need for politicians to "take a breath before making a decision."

"Terrorism is an ongoing, long-term problem that requires careful, consistent solutions, not knee jerk reactions; we didn't win the cold war by flying off the handle every other month," Woods stated.


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