These days, everything can become an election issue. Thursday's disappearance of EgyptAir Flight 804 elicited statements from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, whose response styles reflected their overall characters and approaches to crises. Trump rushed onto his favorite medium, Twitter, around 6 a.m. ET on Thursday as one of the first politically prominent U.S. figures to speak at all about the EgyptAir flight. Clinton ambled into the conversation later in the afternoon on the more traditional and formal platform of a CNN interview. Both made the conjecture that the plane crash was likely a terror attack — but Clinton's attempt at a measured and moderate response may have hurt more than helped her when offset by Trump's tweet.
Trump's tweet barged onto scene even before officials released statements that seriously considered Flight 804's disappearance as possibly the result of a terrorist attack. Full of his typical fire and vitriol, he said it "looks like yet another terrorist attack" and lamented the "great hate and sickness" it represented for him. He paired the speculation with a call for action—"get tough, smart and vigilant." Keep in mind, this was well before the reports of plane debris — which were later retracted by EgyptAir officials, as is — hit the news.
Then, evidence that EgyptAir Flight 804 may have been brought down by a sudden explosion emerged. A report in The Daily Beast noted there was a flash detected at the time and place where the plane was last tracked. NBC News reported that a senior U.S. intelligence official stated "the cause of the crash remains unclear, but infrared and multispectral imagers indicate strongly there was an explosion on the flight." The New York Post reported that a federal law enforcement official told the newspaper that "the U.S. government was operating under the theory that a bomb brought the airliner down."
While Clinton came into the picture with a careful and polished statement that was a foil to Trump's tweet, I worry she appeared like johnny-come-lately to too many. With all the evidence known to strongly point toward a terror attack as the cause of the crash, Clinton said, “It does appear that it was an act of terrorism ... exactly how, of course, the investigation will have to determine.” Her statement landed rather mildly in the wake of all the speculation that had already paraded through the morning, and arguably did not have the same weight and alarm as Trump's tweet. Even though I personally support her approach, so much of Trump's appeal has been about not following caution and diplomacy — and I fear their disparate responses only played in that.
There's an opportunity here for Trump to pride upon "getting there first" or beating Clinton to the soundbite, despite the fearmongering and then-unsupported nature of his tweet. Clinton's statement may make her look worse in a culture that rewards Trump-like reactions, in which trigger-happy answers are given before questions are even asked. The popularity of Trump reveals that Trump's kind of response, not Clinton's, is valued by many — fast, red-blooded, action-oriented, and not really giving a sh*t. I fear that Clinton's response, which should be lauded for being responsible and cautious, may have, in fact, harmed her.
Image: Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle