This past Saturday, I was at a close friend’s birthday party enjoying my night with cake and laughter when a series of text and email alerts sent a chill down my spine. From the Boston Globe, CNN and other sources, I was alerted to the news that there had been a bomb of some sort that went off in the heart of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Immediately scouring Twitter for more information, I saw correspondents on the scene like NBC’s Richard Engel post updates detailing a loud explosion from a dumpster, and an unknown number of injuries. It was particularly difficult for me to swallow this one (despite the fact that these sorts of homegrown terrorist attacks seem to be happening with upsetting regularity these days) because they said the blast had happened on 23rd St in the middle of the night and it occurred to me very quickly that had this happened just a few weeks earlier I could have easily been at that very place myself when the explosion occurred.
So needless to say I had a personal investment in the attack and pertaining to this beat I was keen to hear what the response would be from the presidential candidates. And let’s just say I didn’t like what I saw.
It did not take long for them to weigh in on the three orchestrated attacks (two in New Jersey and one in New York). In fact according to an article in Politico, Trump reportedly told a crowd at a rally in Colorado Saturday night itself, before the police had even released an official statement, this information:
“I must tell you that just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on. But, boy, we are really in a time — we better get very tough, folks.”
Here I want to make an important point. This may just be my personal moral compass here, but it seems like Trump should not have been telling this crowd that a bomb went off in New York (and furthermore insinuating it was most definitely an act of terrorism with the words ‘we better get very tough’) before any official details of the events were released by law enforcement. He is not a reporter, nor someone who was even on the scene at the time to provide an eyewitness account. As someone running for the highest office, it probably would have behooved him to have either mentioned it as simply an incident in New York or not have discussed it at all unless a question was raised by a member of the audience. While it of course did turn out to be an act of domestic terrorism and one inspired by Al Qaeda, Trump did not know this for certain when he spoke at the Saturday night rally.
Interestingly enough Trump’s running mate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Sunday declined to comment on the specifics of the attack and simply urged prayer for the victims. As he put it,
“As a governor and a candidate for national office it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation other than to say that we are thankful in our hearts that that there was no loss of life as a result of these horrific attacks.”
This appears to show Pence demonstrating a higher level of restraint than his mate, and in fact pointing out that Trump’s Saturday remarks were inappropriate.
As if that was not enough, Hillary Clinton echoed the same sentiments Pence raised when she spoke with reporters Saturday night on a flight from Washington to New York state, saying she had been briefed on the incident but that she would not comment until more details became evident. She also jabbed Trump for his Saturday night remarks in Colorado:
“I think it’s always wiser to wait until you have information before making conclusions, because we are just in the beginning stages of trying to determine what happened.”
This gave Clinton the opportunity to seize the political upper hand in the conversation, with multiple media outlets seeming to condemn Trump’s premature remarks:
Which would have been fine had it not been for this news here as reported by The Hill:
It turns out that in fact, both candidates classified the Chelsea incident as a bombing Saturday night. Consider the below exchange with Clinton which happened just before the quote I cited earlier from Clinton:
Clinton: I’ve been briefed about bombings in New York and New Jersey, and the attacks in Minnesota. Obviously, we need to do everything we can to support our first responders, also to pray for the victims. We have to let this investigation unfold. We’ve been in touch with various officials, including the mayor’s office in New York, to learn what they are discovering as they conduct this investigation. And I’ll have more to say about it when we actually know the facts.
Reporter: Secretary Clinton, do you have any reaction to the fact that Donald Trump, immediately upon taking the stage tonight, called the explosion in New York a “bomb” … ?
Since the weekend, both candidates have used the attacks to highlight their particular strengths in foreign policy and how the other candidate would be completely useless in the ongoing fight against terrorism. But the most important insight I gleamed from this incident was that neither camp is immune from a) using a national tragedy solely to further their lofty political aspirations (something I already knew) and b) speculation is rampant on both sides in these situations, despite what either camp might say.