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Trump sinks to a new level with remarks on Orlando

Donald Trump, with characteristic and appalling opportunism, has pivoted the focus of the 2016 presidential campaign to the latest mass murder in an Orlando gay night club at the hand of another mentally deranged shooter.

Lauding himself via Twitter for anticipating such an attack and reporting praise from his faithful, he typed the following: "Appreciate the congrats for being right on extremist Islamic terrorism." He added he didn't need to be praised, adding "because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen, and it is only going to get worse." Later he told CNN: "I've been a pretty good prognosticator as to what's going to be happening."

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Mr. Trump's blatant strategy to use the Orlando tragedy to attack President Obama's prosecution of the war against the Islamic State was an obvious effort to get back on the offensive. He had spent days defending himself against sharp criticism, particularly from within his own Republican Party, over racial references he made against a federal judge presiding over a civil fraud suit against his defunct Trump University.

More comfortable with the pivot, he was able to resume attacking Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton on the war and safety at home. Initially he said Mr. Obama "should immediately resign in disgrace," and he even seemed to imply that the president could somehow be implicated or acquiescent.

On Fox News he said Mr. Obama "gets it better than anybody understands," and "has something else in mind. There's something going on." And on NBC: "There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it."

Later, Mr. Trump offered that "the currently political correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think clearly. We're not acting clearly." Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, he suggested, "have put political correctness above common sense, above your safety, above all else. I refuse to be politically correct."

The president, after rather mildly observing Monday that he remained determined root out the Islamic State, took Mr. Trump on more forcibly Tuesday on both terrorism and security. "We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?"

He questioned Mr. Trump's notion that this country was going to start discriminating against Muslim-Americans because of their faith, and he asked: "Do Republicans actually agree with this?" He also took up Ms. Clinton's call for reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons of the sort used by the Orlando killer. "Enough talking about being tough on terrorism," he said to the GOP-controlled Congress. "Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it as easy as possible to buy assault weapons."

The president repeated FBI director James Comey's report that there was no evidence the self-proclaimed Islamic state had directed or been otherwise involved in the apparent lone-wolf Orlando attack. But he did say the gunman, slain in the grisly episode, did take in "extremist information and propaganda over the internet."

Mr. Obama also undertook considerable effort to tell the American public that while the fight against the Islamic State was far from over, substantial progress was being made. He said more than 120 of its top leaders had been eliminated and that "all told, ISIL (the Islamic State) has lost nearly half of all the property it once controlled in Iraq, and it will lose more."

But for the time being, Mr. Trump had demonstrated his skill in diverting the path of the presidential campaign to better accommodate his purpose. At least temporarily, he was getting off himself off the defensive about his abusive language and back onto the offensive against Obama and Clinton, both strategically and in tone.

In terms of the voters' reaction, much may depend on whether they share Mr. Trump's impatience and dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama's pace in pursuing the war against terrorism, or are beginning to have more doubts about the celebrity billionaire's temperament and presidential stature to run a great and compassionate country.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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