Post bomb plot, call for ci­vil­ity melts posthaste

Af­ter mil­lisec­ond of mod­er­a­tion, old po­lit­i­cal barbs fly

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — didn’t last.

With the coun­try on edge over a widen­ing pipe-bomb scare, talk of na­tional unity quickly gave way to fin­ger­point­ing. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump cast blame on the me­dia for fo­ment­ing anger in so­ci­ety, while can­di­dates across the coun­try traded par­ti­san broad­sides.

Less than two weeks be­fore midterm elec­tions, the dis­cov­ery of pipe bombs mailed to prom­i­nent Democrats — an episode that might have prompted na­tional re­flec­tion in an­other era — hardly made a rip­ple on the cam­paign trail. At­tack ads re­mained on the air. At­tack lines stayed in stump speeches. The pres­i­dent did not de­liver a speech from the Oval Of­fice or reach out to his pre­de­ces­sor, one of the tar­gets of the threat. He did re­turn to his fa­vorite punch­ing bag.

“A very big part of the Anger we see to­day in our so­ci­ety is caused by the pur­posely false and in­ac­cu­rate re­port­ing of the Main­stream Me­dia that I re­fer to as Fake News,” Trump tweeted Thurs­day.

Af­ter the ar­rest in Florida of Ce­sar Sayoc, a 56-yearold Trump sup­porter now charged in the at­tacks, the pres­i­dent was back in fa­mil­iar form at a Char­lotte, N.C., rally Fri­day night.

His ref­er­ence to “Crooked Hil­lary Clin­ton” prompted chants of “Lock her up” and he as­sailed the me­dia at length, ac­cus­ing re­porters of try­ing “to use the sin­is­ter ac­tions of one in­di­vid­ual to score po­lit­i­cal points” against him. The crowd broke into fre­quent chants of “CNN sucks!” It

CNN was among the tar­gets of the mail bomb plot. While stop­ping short of blam­ing Trump’s rhetoric for in­spir­ing the at­tacks, Jeff Zucker, the pres­i­dent of CNN World­wide, con­tended there was a “to­tal and com­plete lack of un­der­stand­ing at the White House about the se­ri­ous­ness of their con­tin­ued at­tacks on the me­dia.”

Trump’s re­ac­tion was more ev­i­dence of the pol­i­tics of the mo­ment, in which unity is over­rated, a news cy­cle moves on fast and there seems to be lit­tle in­cen­tive for ei­ther ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party to seize the high road. In­stead, what might have been a mo­ment for a deeply di­vided coun­try to come to­gether be­comes the lat­est fod­der for Democrats and Repub­li­cans to blame each other for Amer­ica’s short­com­ings.

Aides at the na­tional Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can Se­nate cam­paign arms said they were see­ing noth­ing to sug­gest can­di­dates were ad­just­ing their mes­sages or sched­ules be­cause of the ex­plo­sives scare. But many can­di­dates were be­gin­ning to move into their clos­ing elec­tion mes­sages, which are typ­i­cally more pos­i­tive.

In­di­ana Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Mike Braun was air­ing a new ad equat­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Joe Don­nelly with one of the in­flat­able danc­ing de­vices at car deal­er­ships.

Other can­di­dates, such as Wis­con­sin’s Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Leah Vuk­mir and the Demo­cratic se­na­tor she’s try­ing to un­seat, Tammy Bald­win, were plow­ing ahead as well.

Vuk­mir linked Bald­win to Hil­lary Clin­ton on Wed­nes­day amid chants of “Lock her up!” at an evening rally with Trump.

Bald­win went ahead with an event Fri­day with for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Mil­wau­kee.

Some Trump crit­ics have blamed him for set­ting a harsh tone and not tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for con­tribut­ing to the poi­sonous po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere.

“No­body else is be­ing as di­vi­sive and in­cite­ful as Don­ald Trump and so to sug­gest other­wise is com­pletely wrong,” said for­mer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Cas­tro, who is con­sid­er­ing a 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Trump has in­sisted that those on the right have been vic­tims of ha­rass­ment as well, point­ing to in­ci­dents in which con­ser­va­tives have been ac­costed in res­tau­rants and pub­lic spa­ces by po­lit­i­cal crit­ics. A num­ber of his al­lies, in­clud­ing son Don­ald Jr., have pro­moted the idea that the bombs may be a Democra­trun hoax.

Repub­li­can Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina tweeted in Trump’s de­fense: “I didn’t blame Bernie San­ders when a Bernie sup­porter shot Con­gress­man Steve Scalise. And I’m not go­ing to blame Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for this nut job.”

That was a ref­er­ence to the 2017 shoot­ing that badly in­jured Scalise and oth­ers. The gun­man, James Hodgkin­son, had posted so­cial me­dia mes­sages sug­gest­ing he tar­geted Repub­li­cans.

Still, on Sat­ur­day, af­ter plead­ing for unity in the wake of yet an­other tragedy — this time the mass shoot­ing at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue hours ear­lier — Trump ap­peared in In­di­ana and quickly slipped into cam­paign mode with a dig at Sen. El­iz­a­beth Warren, D-Mass., a pos­si­ble Demo­cratic Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2020.

As the crowd of stu­dents laughed, Trump shrugged: “We can’t re­sist. Can we re­sist?” The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted.

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