As the presumptive candidates for president of the United States prepare to begin campaigning in earnest, the deadliest mass shooting in US history is putting them to the test. The elements of this particular crisis—and how they respond to it—will likely be key issues of this election.

So it’s telling, perhaps, that the first public responses from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton revealed two drastically different approaches to tragedy and crisis. Clinton was holistic, acknowledging that this complex attack involves terrorism, homophobia, and gun access. Trump, meanwhile, homed in on the national security implications—and on himself, accepting congratulations for speaking out about terrorism. It’s never easy to think of politics at a time like this, but the impact this tragedy has on this election will no doubt dictate how the country responds to future tragedies.

In what is becoming a familiar play in an all too familiar playbook, both the candidates’ first responses came on Twitter.

Hillary Clinton tweeted in both English and Spanish.

In a longer statement her campaign released later in the day, Clinton was more forceful, calling the attacks an “act of terror:” “For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.”

Trump initially tweeted:


But it was Trump’s next tweet that has earned him scathing criticism for showing insensitivity and shifting the focus to himself in a time of grief.

Trump then released a longer statement, condemning both President Barack Obama and Clinton for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Despite the fact that the shooting suspect, Omar Mateen, was a US citizen, Trump said loose immigration policies are, in part, to blame for the attacks, since Mateen’s father is from Afghanistan. “Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse,” Trump’s statement reads. “I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”

The Political Stage

In a brief address, President Obama was far less definitive about the attack’s ties to terrorism. That’s consistent with Obama’s relatively restrained hawkishness during his time in office. It also demonstrates the difference between how a political candidate and a sitting president can respond to such a crisis: Candidates can play to the theater of the moment, since they don’t have the power—or responsibility—to back their words with real action.

In his remarks, President Obama said that investigators have reached “no definitive judgement on the precise motivations of the killer” but that the FBI was investigating the attack, which killed 50 people at a gay club, as an act of terror.

Federal officials identified the killer as a 29-year-old US citizen living in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and called the shooting an act of terrorism. However, they cautioned that there is no evidence of a broader plot or that the suspect had ties to any terrorist organizations, according to The New York Times.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, though signs point to a “lone wolf attack,” a distributed approach to terrorism that ISIS has long encouraged. In such an attack, the perpetrator commits violence in ISIS’ name without any organizational ties to the group. Law enforcement officials report that Mateen called 911 to declare his allegiance to ISIS before carrying out the attack.

This is hardly the first time the President has had to make such a speech following a deadly shooting spree on US soil—by one count it’s the 20th, in fact—and his words hinted at a deep weariness at Congress’s refusal to pass gun control legislation. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” President Obama said. “To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Whether his successor does something is the open question. To his critics, Trump’s tweets look like knee-jerk self-adulation; to his supporters, they’re a show of strength. Clinton’s supporters will see her statements as signs of experience and a judicious nature; her foes will see naivety and an inability to properly defend the country. Either way, with just 148 days until the presidential election, the campaign just got redefined.

Meanwhile, the city of Orlando has begun to release the names of the dead.

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The Orlando Nightclub Shooting Just Redefined the Race for the Presidency