Trump’s response to the terrorist attack in Orlando has been troubling from his very first tweet. He has oscillated between self-congratulation and fear-mongering, which was the running theme of the quasi-fascist speech he gave Monday afternoon. But it’s also been baffling for anyone who expected Trump to make the “pivot” to the general election—that moment when an adolescent presidential campaign finally becomes a man.
Trump hasn’t abandoned the strategies (if you can put such a purposeful cast on what seem to be ad hoc performances) that helped him win the Republican nomination: playing to people’s basest fears, suggesting there are deep-seated conspiracies in place to put the American people at risk, and suggesting that millions of black and brown Americans are not Americans at all. Instead, he’s doubled down on them. Many thought that a TelePrompter would be an effective leash for Trump, but the prepared speech he gave on Monday was as wild as his off-the-cuff remarks.
“The plan—to encourage fear by suggesting that Washington is actively promoting policies that endanger its citizens—plays directly to the base that rewarded him with the GOP nomination,” Politico’s Eli Stokols writes. It’s possible that Trump is still trying to shore up that base, but it appeared that Republican voters were ready to rally around him. The more plausible explanation is that Trump doesn’t have another mode of politicking, forcing him to bet that what worked in in a primary will work in the general.