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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 21, 2017

In a pivotal speech on his first international trip as president, Donald Trump delivered a message on religious-based terrorism that was strikingly more nuanced than his rhetoric from the campaign trail. Speaking to Muslim leaders at a conference in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, Trump pressed the case for forging a joint front against extremism.

It was, in his words, a "battle between good and evil."

"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations," Mr. Trump said. "This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion."

He called on the gathered leaders to deny terrorists any form of support.

"Drive them out," he said. "Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth."

He repeatedly praised his Saudi hosts and described an American policy "based on real-world outcomes, not inflexible ideology."

Perhaps most telling was the absence of a phrase that Trump used as a litmus test when he ran for president -- radical Islamic terrorism.

There was a clear shift of tone, but there were also similarities with his words during the campaign. What changed and what stayed the same?

The hardline Trump

In his quest for the GOP nomination, Trump distinguished himself for his readiness to embrace policies that went beyond what other Republicans would endorse.

Following the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., he called on Dec. 7, 2015, for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

In a March 9, 2016, interview on CNN, Trump said "Islam hates us." When pressed a day later if he meant all Muslims, Trump said "I mean a lot of them."

In contrast, during his speech in Riyadh, Trump said, "I have always heard about the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens."

Throughout the campaign, when Trump spoke of Islam, it generally followed the word "radical."

"When will President Obama issue the words RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM?" Trump tweeted Nov. 15, 2015. "He  can't say it, and unless he will,  the problem will not be solved!"

After the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump leveled the same charge at Hillary Clinton on June 13, 2016. He derided her for a tweet in which she said "Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people, and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism."

"She is in total denial," Trump said. " And her continuing reluctance to ever name the enemy broadcasts weakness across the world."

At one point, Trump said he was open to creating a database of all Muslims in America, and on a few occasions said he would strongly consider closing some mosques.

In Riyadh, Trump didn’t use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" and seemed to go out of his way to suggest that only a few extremists engaged in terrorism.

"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations," Trump said. "This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it."

Trump said he looked forward later in the day to the opening ceremony of the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology. He called the center "a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization."

The moderated Trump

During the campaign, even as Trump painted all Muslims with the broad brush of threat and suspicion, at times, he entertained a broader view.

At an event on Sept. 9, 2015, he said "I love the Muslims. I think they’re great people."

At a news conference in Iowa on Sept. 20, 2015, he said he had "no problem" with putting a Muslim American on his cabinet. (He hasn’t.)

In a major speech on terrorism on Aug. 15, 2016, Trump expressed a readiness to work with Muslim-majority nations that would stand against radical Islam.

"We will work side-by-side with our friends in the Middle East, including our greatest ally, Israel," Trump said. "We will partner with King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Sisi of Egypt, and all others who recognize this ideology of death that must be extinguished. Our administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices."

Trump repeated a theme of conciliation in his Riyadh speech, saying, "We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values, to pursue a better future for us all."

During the campaign, attacks at home drew the strongest responses from Trump.  Overseas at least, Trump has embraced the view that while there are many Muslims who hate America, there are at least as many who don’t.

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