President Donald Trump spent the weekend venting venom at a bewildering list of targets — even as much of the rest of the world was still trying to come to terms with a true outrage — the carnage wrought against Muslims in New Zealand.
In a stunning display of personal grievances aired on Twitter, Trump demanded the return of a supportive Fox News host who was missing from her usual spot on Saturday after verbally attacking an American Muslim lawmaker. He escalated his beyond-the-grave feud with late Sen. John McCain. He complained at being lampooned by NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Trump also fulminated against the Russia investigation and “Radical Left Democrats” and took shots at an Ohio union boss.
It isn’t that it is unusual for this most unconventional of Presidents to hit out at his foes on Twitter. But this weekend’s tirade came across as even more jarring given his tepid tone on Friday when he said that he didn’t think white supremacy was a growing global problem after the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50.
And Trump did little to follow through on a request by Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, that he show love and sympathy to all Muslims.
The President’s refusal to be pushed into a more vehement condemnation of white supremacists, after a history of racially charged and anti-Muslim rhetoric put the administration on the defensive.
“I don’t think anybody can say the President is anti-Muslim,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said when confronted with evidence like Trump’s demand to ban all Muslim immigration during the 2016 campaign and a remark that “Islam hates us.”
Mulvaney, speaking on CBS “Face the Nation” on Sunday pushed back on the idea that “every time something bad happens … folks who don’t like Donald Trump, blame it on Donald Trump.”
On “Fox News Sunday” Mulvaney said: “The President is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that.”
Mulvaney’s comments did not explain why the President has often had a chance to vigorously condemn white supremacists — for instance after the far right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia — and has not done so.
His implication that people who criticize Trump for such behavior are effectively accusing him of inciting horrific violence himself, blurs the argument in order to shield the President.
Most critiques of Trump’s rhetoric do not specifically say he caused outrages like the one in New Zealand but question whether he has a responsibility, given that a President has often been seen as a moral leader, to do more to condemn such hateful ideologies.
Extremists, like the one who allegedly carried out the New Zealand attacks and the American accused of sending explosive devices to Trump’s political critics and media organizations last year, do appear to have found some level of validation in the some of the President’s rhetoric.
Mulvaney also dodged when asked on Sunday whether the President would give a speech condemning white supremacy, given that statistics suggest it is becoming an increasing problem.
Muslim brothers and sisters
Nothing that the President has said in the wake of the attacks has sounded anything like the unifying language of his ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, who repeatedly referred to “our Muslim brothers and sisters,” during an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We have to make sure they’re safe and secure …,” said Brown a former Republican senator from Massachusetts.
“The biggest priority is to … make sure that love (triumphs) over hate, reach out to your local communities and do the things important to make this country heal,” said Brown, speaking from New Zealand.
Trump’s weekend tweet storm and obsession with personal slights seemed stunning given that the conversation on news shows the world over was focused on the attack in New Zealand.
The President’s tweets are often designed to spark overreactions from the media, stir anger in his activist base and to distract from his own political problems.
Sometimes, he has given the impression that adopting a politically incorrect position is more important to him than voicing the kind of unifying rhetoric that has often been expected of Presidents in the past.
The latest examination of Trump’s attitude towards far-right-wing political rhetoric — which has some resonance among a minority in his political base — was set off by his initial reactions to the terror attack on Friday.
He bemoaned a “horrible massacre in the Mosques” and condemned how “sacred places of worship were turned into scenes of evil killing.”
But asked whether there was a rising problem with radical white supremacist influences in global politics he undermined his previous comments by saying: “I don’t really think so. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
The President also did not offer public empathy to American Muslims or condemn the specific act of targeting believers in such attacks.
An opening for Trump’s opponents
His failure to be more adamant in condemning white supremacy offered an opening towards his political opponents, including Democratic 2020 candidates.
“At the very least, he is dividing people. They are using him as an excuse. And he, at the very least, should be giving strong statements, public speeches defending Muslims in this world,” said Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is running for president, on “State of the Union.”
“One of our jobs, as a leader, is to stand up, whether people are Jewish, whether they’re Muslim, no matter how they worship, no matter what they look like. We have to remember that they are all part of a country of shared dreams. And that’s the United States of America.”
A new debate on the issue though might also play into the President’s efforts to stir his own base and to advance the narrative that he is being unfairly targeted for not being politically correct.
Trump’s weekend tweets covered everything from the Russia investigation to his support for Fox News.
He attacked McCain, who died of brain cancer last year, for passing on to the FBI a copy of the Steele Dossier, written by a former British intelligence agent that claimed he was compromised by Russia, and for voting against a bill to replace Obamacare.
The President’s attacks sparked a response from McCain’s friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is usually a strong Trump supporter.
“As to @SenJohnMcCain and his devotion to his country: He stepped forward to risk his life for his country, served honorably under difficult circumstances, and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body … Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
Trump also defended one of his most vociferous cheerleaders on Fox, Jeanine Pirro, who did not appear in her usual spot on Saturday night after questioning whether the religious beliefs of Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar were compatible with the US Constitution.
“Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro. The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country,” Trump wrote on Twitter.