Fifteen years after the devastating terror attacks rocked America, GOP Republican nominee Donald Trump wields 9/11 as a political weapon and a sign of the establishment’s failings to its citizens.
"The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn't kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him. And George Bush — by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn't listen to the advice of his C.I.A,” Trump said in a February debate that left the rest of his party sputtering.
Like many issues, Trump has been all over the map about the attacks. Speaking near the rubble days after the towers fell, the real estate developer and lifelong New Yorker took a measured tone, vowing to rebuild and restore the city. Later, he decried the chosen redevelopment plans as “disgusting” when his preferred plans were rejected. As a Republican candidate campaigning on a promise to ban all Muslim immigrants from the country, he used it as proof of the danger Islam poses.
Whether as an outspoken New Yorker or the Republican nominee for president, how Trump speaks about 9/11 is uniquely illustrative. It’s a window into the way a businessman who has never held elected office or served in the military would view devastating attacks on the nation, a suggestion of what his priorities would be, and how he’d lead amid a similar tragedy.
In his own words, here’s what Trump has said about 9/11.
2001: New York is strong.
“New York is very strong and resilient and they’ll rebuild quickly,” the developer said two days after 9/11 from Ground Zero, where he was spotted telling onlookers “no pictures” while flanked by security.
Hit back, then rebuild.
“I think they have to respond quickly and effectively. They have to figure out who did it and they have to go after these people,” Trump said in the same Ground Zero interview. “Secondarily and less importantly, we have to rebuild in some form in a way that will be just as majestic as the World Trade Center.”
Trump vowed to be part of that rebuilding “in some way or another,” but his participation ended when the commission approving plans for the rebuilding efforts rejected the project he was backing.
2005: ‘Disgusting’ design
Trump championed engineer Ken Gardner’s plan to have the towers rebuilt exactly as they looked before — only slightly taller and stronger. When those plans were passed over, Trump balked, throwing a press conference in Trump Tower to celebrate his plans (along with a 9-foot model of the designs) and appearing on MSNBC to deride the five-tower plan that was proposed.
“I'd rather have nothing than what they're building," Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in 2005. "It's a terrible design. It was designed by an egghead architect who really doesn't have a lot of experience of designing something like this. And it's a disgusting design that we're going to have to live with for many, many years in New York.”
2013: Best wishes, haters and losers.
Trump famously tweeted best wishes "to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date" on September 11th 2013. He later deleted the tweet, though left alive his own reposting of it.
Later, as a candidate, things got far more politicized and Islamaphobic.
2015: I saw Muslims celebrating it.
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump said during a rally in November.
He told ABC News that he saw it on television, despite host George Stephanopoulos’ reminder that police say this did not happen.
“There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations," Trump insisted. "They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
Extensive reviews of television coverage from the day found nothing. Reporters covering the aftermath of the attacks, local and city authorities, and police say this did not happen. There were reports of celebrations overseas in Muslim countries, but not in New Jersey. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave Trump four Pinocchio’s for this claim.
2016: It was George W. Bush’s fault.
"The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe,” Trump said during a February primary debate where he took former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to task for defending the former Republican president. "The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn't kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him. And George Bush — by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn't listen to the advice of his C.I.A."
“I lost hundreds of friends!”
Booed for deriding Bush for the 9/11 attacks, Trump told the debate audience that he “lost hundreds of friends.”
Of the 2,996 who died on 9/11, Trump would have had to know about one out of every ten victims for this to be true. Trump did not respond to requests from The Daily Beast to name who those friends were, or if the statement was indeed hyperbolic.
A sign of ‘New York values’
Criticized during the Iowa primary for having ‘New York values’ — a dig by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at Trump’s moneyed, liberal hometown — Trump touted the 9/11 recovery.
"New York values were on display for all to see in the aftermath of 9/11 — a strike at the heart of our city and our nation. In our darkest moments, as a city, we showed the world the very, very best in terms of bravery and heart and soul that we have in America," the Republican candidate said.
A visit and a donation.
More than 14 years after the attacks, amid the New York primary, Trump made his first visit to the 9/11 memorial with reporters in a trailing media van. He declined to speak with them, as planned, but aides sent a photograph of Trump and wife Melania touring the memorial.
He wrote a $100,000 check to the memorial from his eponymous foundation, an organization that largely distributes others’ money, as Trump has not donated to it since 2008. His campaign insists he has given large sums out of pocket to 9/11 charities, but reporters have struggled to find proof of donations to those charities or even a single cash donation in the last five years. The candidate has yet to release his tax returns, which would show charitable giving.
My policies could have prevented it.
“Those people that knocked down the World Trade Center most likely under the Trump policy wouldn’t have been here to knock down the World Trade Center, just so you understand,” Trump said in August.
I would have definitely stopped it.
“I would’ve been tougher on terrorism. Bin Laden would’ve been caught a long time ago, before he was ultimately caught, prior to the downing of the World Trade Center,” Trump said in September.