Following Tuesday's deadly attacks in Brussels, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, knocked off a quick succession of TV interviews in which his talking points evolved, enlarged, doubled back on themselves, and generally seemed of a piece with the candidate's improvised foreign-policy platform of being terrified of Muslims. The note he returned to again and again was that Belgium's capital was a “horrible city” brought low by Muslim immigration. He also endorsed the use of torture (again), flip-flopped on whether he would shut down the border were he president today, and warned that a similar violence was coming to the U.S.
Trump started working out his themes on Twitter ...
Do you all remember how beautiful and safe a place Brussels was. Not anymore, it is from a different world! U.S. must be vigilant and smart!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2016
... and on Fox and Friends, before refining them over the course of the morning. The main points: Brussels, bad; closing the borders, good:
Trump: I will tell you, I’ve been talking about this for a long time. And look at Brussels. Brussels was a beautiful city. A beautiful place with zero crime. And now it’s a disaster city. It’s a total disaster. And we have to be very—we have to be very careful in the United States. We have to be very, very vigilant as to who we allow into this country.
Anchor: If you do become president and you were in a situation like this, what would you do to protect America?
Trump: Well again, I think I said it. I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on. Look at Brussels. Look at Paris. Look at so many cities that were great cities. Paris is almost, almost as bad. Paris is no longer the beautiful city of lights. Paris has got a lot of problems. All you have to do is speak to the people that live there. And you look at other places where the same thing has happened, and they’re in fear, they’re cities in fear. And we have to be smart in the United States. And when people come in—we’re taking in people without real documentation. We don’t know where they’re coming from. We don’t know where they’re from, who they are. You look at them, you look at it from any standpoint, they could be ISIS, they could be ISIS related. And you know, we just don’t learn. We don’t learn. Brussels is an amazing example. Brussels was an absolutely crime-free city. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. And now you look at it, it’s a disaster.
On NBC's Today, host Matt Lauer also asked how he would have reacted to Tuesday's tragedy had he been president. The candidate started off by bragging a bit about his poll numbers—“I’ve been talking about this simply much more than anybody else, and it’s why I’m probably number one in the polls because of the fact that I say we have to have strong borders”—before reprising the topic of just how truly terrible Brussels is:
We have to have very vigilant and careful about who we let into our country. I know Brussels well. And Brussels is a total mess. And I’m not talking about the attack today. I’m talking about generally speaking. It is a city that used to be one of the finest, one of the most beautiful and one of the safest cities in the world. And now it’s a catastrophic, very dangerous city where the police have very little control.
“Belgium is no longer Belgium,” he added later, after endorsing the use of waterboarding and other, unspecified forms of torture. “Belgium is not the Belgium that you and I knew, Matt, from 20 years ago, which was one of the most beautiful cities and one of the safest cities in the world. Belgium is a horror show right now.
“They want to go by Sharia law,” Trump elaborated, trading the dog whistle for a klaxon. “They want Sharia law. They don’t want laws that we have. They want Sharia law. And you say to yourself, at what point how much of this do you take? And what we’re doing is we’re allowing thousands and thousands of these people into our country and we’re going to have problems as sure as you’re sitting there."
On CBS, where he called Brussels “a horrible city” and “a horror show,” Trump offered up the most vivid version of his the argument that Europe's capitals have been reduced to war zones:
If you would have known Brussels 20 years ago, you would have seen a place that was like one of the truly great places, one of the most magnificent cities in the world, with no crime. Today it’s an armed camp. You see soldiers walking all over the streets. And I’m not talking about today after the attack. I’m talking about before the attack. It’s an armed camp. They have areas in Brussels where the police can’t even go. The police are afraid to go there. The police don’t even go there. It’s a mess. And if you look at Paris, believe me it’s the same thing. It’s pretty close. It’ll be the same thing. It might be worse, if you want to know the truth. So you know, all of these cities that we think so much of, they’re from different planets right now, all because you allowed people into the cities that shouldn’t be in there, frankly.
In the course of his CBS spot, Trump managed to reverse himself on the subject of closing the borders. “I didn’t say shut down the border,” he said, just minutes after saying, “I would close up our borders.” He continued: “What I said is we have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.” And then he decided to monger a little fear by suggesting Syrian refugees were going to carry out their own attack in the United States:
We can be smart or we can be extremely dumb. But something has to change. And this is going to happen in the United States. And we’re allowing thousands of people to come into the United States from Syria—we think it’s from Syria, we don’t even know if it’s from Syria. But we think from the migration. We’re allowing thousands of people to come in. They have no documentation. We don’t know where they come from. We don’t know anything about them. And you watch what’s going to be happening
This is how Donald Trump comforts a worried nation.