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Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former New Democratic Party national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.

Is it possible that an unhinged mass murderer named Omar Mateen has helped Donald Trump become President?

As everyone knows, Mr. Trump flagrantly exploited Mr. Mateen's grisly deed at an Orlando gay bar last week to hammer home his promise to keep all Muslims out of the United States. Yet Omar Mateen was a born New Yorker who would not have been touched by such a prohibition. He wasn't even, it seems, a religious Muslim.

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But as usual, once Mr. Trump started crying "radical Islam," fear overwhelmed facts and the slaughter became grist for Mr. Trump's presidential race. Anything to do with terror is politically dangerous for Hillary Clinton and a boon to the Trump campaign. By and large, Americans accept the myth that a man can handle issues related to security, terror and war more effectively than a woman and that Republicans can be trusted on these issues more than Democrats. This is not good for Ms. Clinton.

I must stress that not everyone agrees that Mr. Mateen will play out this way, given Ms. Clinton's experience and stability compared to Mr. Trump's recklessness and extremism. Certainly Ms. Clinton would be hurt less than other female candidates. As well, some commentators believe Mr. Trump's post-Orlando ravings have finally gone too far and that the backlash has already begun. One poll by Bloomberg, for example, shows Ms. Clinton well ahead of Mr. Trump.

We must all fervently hope and pray it's right and I'm wrong. But I'm afraid there are solid reasons to fear the worst. This will be the nth time people have thought Donald Trump went too far; yet he's never paid a penalty. Besides, despite his hot air, far more people are likely to believe that tough-talking Mr. Trump can more reliably stop these terrible outbreaks than Ms. Clinton can. It's the same syndrome that makes so many people believe Mr. Trump can actually whip Islamic State. Like it or not, that same Bloomberg poll showed Mr. Trump was more trusted than Ms. Clinton to deal both with something like the Orlando shooting and a terrorist threat.

After all, Ms. Clinton is of course a mere woman, or, in the words of a misogynistic T-shirt now being worn by Trumpeters that nicely reflect the man himself: "Trump That Bitch." Second, she's simply untrustworthy. Third, Mr. Trump baldly claims that he can do anything, including ending mass murder in the United States, and many Americans are pleased to believe him. This could be enough to take him over the top.

But there are some independents who won't fall for Mr. Trump's flim-flam and braggadocio, including most of Democratic contender Bernie Sanders's devoted young fans. This is exactly the group that could give Ms. Clinton the majority she now lacks to become president. If she wins it will be with the narrowest of margins, so these young, enthusiastic, progressive Americans could well be her ace. But they don't like and don't trust her, for pretty good reasons that Mr. Sanders has not hesitated to spell out in his speeches. Now he has to persuade them that, after absorbing all his attacks on her, they must move to Ms. Clinton to keep Mr. Trump out.

This sounds elementary: Anyone but Trump. What sane person can disagree? Well, these same American youth. They're disillusioned as hell with American politicians whom they rightly see as being in the pockets of the 1 per cent. Certainly the millions Ms. Clinton has received in various gifts from America's big banks belie her progressive credentials, while Mr. Sanders pledges to regulate these same banks. If he now turns around and simply endorses her, he becomes just another one of those cynical pols who flip-flops for his own advantage.

But Bernie has considerable leverage here and he must use it. In return for ending his candidacy and endorsing Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party must formally adopt some of Mr. Sanders's key policies. As Rev. Jesse Jackson shrewdly observed, Ms. Clinton is running a campaign, Mr. Sanders a crusade. And he's been wildly successful, though of course not successful enough.

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What's needed is for the tired and corrupt old political machine called the Democratic Party to commit itself formally to policies that would reduce the United States's ever-increasing inequality – reforming Wall Street, introducing a $15-an-hour minimum wage, strengthening social security, lowering prescription-drug prices. This would show Bern's nation that the party and its candidate has embraced his crusade and that they must join him in giving it their support. The promise of defeating Donald Trump should at least make the effort considerably easier.

Of course anyone with a bit of well-earned skepticism will persuasively retort that promises made during campaigns regularly become broken promises after. The Democratic Party is living, breathing evidence of this sour adage. But so far as I can see, this remains Ms. Clinton's only card left to play. She already has whatever women she's going to have, plus loyal Democrats, plus – thanks to Mr. Trump's mouth – more blacks and Hispanics and LGBT'ers than even Barack Obama ever got. She will lose the millions of Americans who remain fundamentally anti-woman. She will not get conservative-leaning independents, especially if Mr. Trump can continue to exploit the Orlando massacre or, even worse, if there is another mass murder closer to election day. That appalling possibility would surely give the election to Donald Trump, and then our only hope is that prayer works.

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