Post bomb plot, call for civility melts posthaste
After millisecond of moderation, old political barbs fly
WASHINGTON — It 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 Hi l l a r y C l i n t o n ” 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!”
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 Democrat-run 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?”
To suggest Donald Trump is not being divisive is very wrong, says Julian Castro, above.