The day after a massacre at a gay nightclub marked the worst mass shooting in American history, Donald Trump cast himself as a better protector of gay people than Hillary Clinton—an overture to a Democratic-leaning constituency he rarely mentioned during the Republican presidential primary.
Trump made several references to the gay community during a major national security speech at St. Anselm College's Institute of Politics in New Hampshire, paired with questions about the qualifications of the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said, referring to Clinton’s support for Muslim immigration despite the anti-LGBT values of the societies some of those immigrants come from. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.”
But even as Trump opened door to one group, he closed the door on another, outlining a case against Muslims inside the country and out, broadly casting them as a potential danger because they’re either tied to radical Islamic terrorism or are choosing to shield terrorists.
“We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer,” Trump said, referring to the U.S.-born Muslim man who used a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun to kill 49 people and injure 53 on Sunday morning.
“Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad—and they do know where they are,” he told about 100 people at the college.
Trump's nomination campaign was buoyed by his proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., but this time he defined that ban as pertaining to those who hail from areas with a record of terrorism against the U.S., Europe, or allies—not simply based on religion. U.S. immigration laws give the president that power, he said.
He also called for stopping “the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees” into the country.
Trump accused Clinton of having a “radical immigration policy” even as she claims to be an advocate for gay rights. “Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country—they enslave women, and murder gays. I don’t want them in our country,” Trump said, reading a formal speech using a set of Teleprompters.
Trump originally planned to use the podium at St. Anselm to discuss, as Trump put it, “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. Trump still attacked Clinton on Monday, but recalibrated his theme after Sunday’s rampage reignited three hot-button issues: gun rights, gay rights, and terrorism.
He said the Orlando killings were committed by a “radical Islamic terrorist” who targeted the nightclub not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation.
“It is a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation,” he said. “It is an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity.”
He said the burden is on Clinton to say “why we should admit anyone into our country who supports violence of any kind against gay and lesbian Americans.”
Civil-rights activists doubted Trump’s speech did much to win over gay Americans.
“Never once during the primaries did Trump express support LGBT equality,” Richard Socarides, a lawyer and former Clinton White House adviser, told Bloomberg Politics. “Now, using a Teleprompter and reading a speech someone wrote for him, he's changing his tune. No gay person I know will buy it.”
Chad Griffin, the president of Human Rights Campaign, a civil-rights group that supports Clinton, was equally unimpressed with Trump's message in a Twitter posting. “LGBTQ people are Muslims, Jewish, black, Latino, women, immigrants. @realDonaldTrump's divisive rhetoric is wrong. Today especially so,” he wrote.
But Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that represents gay conservatives, said he thought Monday was extraordinary.
“Trump's speech today was historic: It marked the first time in history a Republican presidential nominee made a direct and explicit appeal to the LGBT community,” Angelo told Bloomberg. “Only time will tell if that translates to actual votes, but in key states that will be decided by slim margins, a few extra votes from LGBT Americans could make all the difference.”
Trump's fellow Republicans have generally shied away from saying “gay” or “LGBT” when referring to the shooting, which took place at a gay-themed nightclub named Pulse. But there were some exceptions, among them U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and U.S. Representative Robert Dold, both of Illinois, who referred to the gay community in their statements.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump's most serious opponent for the GOP nomination until he dropped out in May, also voiced strong opposition to the attack and those who inspired it.
“For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians," Cruz said. "Nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn’t share their faith or sexual orientation.”