Home / U.S. / Trump and his aides struggle to balance mid-term attacks with empathy after the synagogue massacre

Trump and his aides struggle to balance mid-term attacks with empathy after the synagogue massacre

Prior to his visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, President Trump and his top advisers have struggled to balance their campaign strategy in the scorched earth with calls for national unity after the killing of 11 Jewish worshipers last weekend in a synagogue .

The president's plans to increase his political attacks in the last seven-day stretch for the midterm elections have been complicated by a wave of separate and tragic crises.

Trump's leadership was first tested by sending more than a dozen pipe bombs to Democratic targets and the president's high profile media, and then to the massive anti-Semitic attack at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue.

The White House's stressful balancing act was on display during Monday afternoon's briefing, the first in nearly a month, where press secretary Sarah Sanders alternately sought to calm national divisions and inflame them.

Sanders choked while denouncing the "atrocious acts" in Pittsburgh and said that Trump had "risen up for that occasion" and helped unite the country.

Simultaneously, however, he repeated Trump's accusation to the media as a responsible party for the atmosphere of hatred and promised that the president would continue to persecute the Democrats to highlight "the differences between the two parties."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders answers questions from reporters during a press conference on Monday. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

"The president's first action was to condemn these atrocious acts," Sanders told reporters. "The first thing the media did was condemn the president, go after him, try to blame him."

Trump's anger with the media overflowed during the weekend when news organizations delved into the avid support of the president, suspected of the mail bomb, Cesar Sayoc. The man from Florida attended Trump's rallies and decorated the windows of his white van with positive images of Trump and Vice President Pence, and photos of the Democratic enemies of the president with their faces or bodies.

Trump was annoyed by the extent to which the media focused on Sayoc's support for him, according to a consultant, and channeled that anger on Twitter, where on Monday he blamed the media for the nation's divisions and declared "False News must end! "

"There is great anger in our country caused in part by the inaccurate and even fraudulent information of the news," Trump wrote on Twitter. "False media, the real enemy of the people, must stop open and obvious hostility and report the news accurately and fairly."

The outburst of Trump provoked new reprimands, and not only of the democrats. David Lapan, who was press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security while being led by John F. Kelly, who is now the president's chief of staff, wrote on Twitter: "For more than 30 years as a Marine of the United States United, I defended our country. " Against your true enemies. In more than 20 years as a spokesperson for USMC, Pentagon and DHS, I dealt with the media almost every day. I know a lot about the press and I know, they are NOT enemies of the American people. "

The shooting in the synagogue occurred just as Trump was intensifying his campaign activities on behalf of the Republicans who were heading to next Tuesday's election. The president is expected to storm the country, with at least 11 "Make America Great Again" rallies planned for the past six days, starting Wednesday in Fort Myers, Florida.

Trump has focused intensely on the election, and asked his aides to schedule as many meetings as possible in the last week of the campaign and meet regularly with his political team to analyze the latest polls of the main Senate elections and The House of Representatives.

But the Pittsburgh shooting has been an unwelcome interruption. Trump was tentatively scheduled to deliver a fierce speech on Tuesday on immigration, in which he was considering announcing a plan to at least temporarily ban Central American immigrants from entering the southern border and deny them the opportunity to seek asylum.

But he dismissed those comments in favor of his visit to Pittsburgh, where he is expected to meet with law enforcement officials. The speech is now expected to take place after the midterms, said a senior White House official, in part because of an acknowledgment that the political moment has changed.

However, the administration went ahead with an announcement on Monday of its decision to deploy thousands of additional troops on the United States-Mexico border. The move came when the president warned in a tweet of an "invasion" in the form of an increasingly smaller caravan of migrants moving slowly north through Mexico.

Behind the scenes in the White House, the advisers have been debating how to play the right note between the final release of the Trump campaign and the role of national dildo, according to people familiar with the conversations, who, like others, requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. .

As crises of mail shots and synagogues developed over the past week, Trump received advice from allies who insisted on the importance of sounding presidential, but sometimes felt annoyed by what he considered unnecessary and gratuitous advice, he said. a republican frequently. Contact with the White House.

Trump's advisers privately acknowledge that the president is not particularly good at projecting empathy, and that he does not think his supporters expect him to look smooth or emotional. Trump was deeply embarrassed to visit the family of a soldier killed at the beginning of his presidency, the advisors said, and has made uncomfortable gestures, such as showing a thumbs up, during hospital visits and other somber occasions.

Within Trump's orbit, there is an acknowledgment that the strategy will ultimately be driven by the president himself, and the feeling that the rapid news cycle, including the caravan, could overcome current crises and change the focus again .

Trump's Jewish daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both senior advisers to the White House, were among those who advised the president to visit Pittsburgh. They received a call from him to talk about the shooting on Saturday, when the couple normally observe Shabbat with their three young children, and Ivanka sent a tweet about the massacre, both indications of how seriously they took the incident, according to someone familiar with their conversations.

Sanders announced Monday that President and First Lady Melania Trump will visit Pennsylvania on Tuesday to commemorate the victims of the shooting, even when the mayor of Pittsburgh publicly requested that the trip be postponed until after the funeral.

City officials were surprised by the announcement of Trump's trip and expect it to attract protests the same day as the first funerals.

Tens of thousands of people have He signed an open letter from a Jewish group based in Pittsburgh that says the president would not be welcome in the city unless he denounced white nationalism and stopped "attacking" minorities.

Sanders said the Trumps would visit to "express the support of the American people and mourn the community of Pittsburgh."

"This atrocity was a chilling act of mass murder. It was an act of hatred and, above all, it was an act of evil, "Sanders said, adding that the president" appreciates the American Jewish community for everything it represents and contributes to our country. "

Senior officials in the administration sent two White House employees who are Jews: Avi Berkowitz, deputy assistant to the president and adviser to Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt, the special representative for international negotiations, to Pittsburgh over the weekend. Trump was aware of his trip, and they plan to remain on the ground until at least after the president's visit on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto (D), asked the White House to consider "two important factors" before scheduling a visit: the will of the families of the victims and the fact that the attention of the city, including the efforts of the official law of compliance: will focus on Tuesday at the funerals of the victims.

"If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask him not to do so while we are burying the dead. Our attention and our focus will be on them, and we do not have public safety that we can eliminate what it takes to do both, "said Peduto, according to a transcript of his comments.

Trump expressed outrage Saturday at the Pittsburgh massacre, saying: "This evil act of mass murder is pure evil."

Trump was criticized in some corners for apparently only going through the movements of presidential action and then returned to the mode of partisan attack. He decided to go ahead with a campaign rally on Saturday night in Illinois, hours after the synagogue massacre, and he continued to pursue his enemies.

"Almost any president of my life would have canceled the campaign rally," said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. "So deep in Donald Trump's leadership is dividing to conquer, even in a time of national crisis like this, you see a lot on display … He has been completely unable to heal our wounds."

Trump has some advocates in the Jewish community, however. Ken Kurson, a close friend of Kushner, recalled seeing Trump in a bris for one of his grandchildren, Theodore Kushner, and that he had never seen the president do or say anything that he thought was anti-Semitic.

"My personal opinion is that the president reacted very strongly and appropriately with real emotion," Kurson said. The words he used mattered to me. Instantly he called it an anti-Semitic act. That is important for the world to listen, to listen to it add a moral component. "

Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor, argued that "anti-religiousness" and a tendency to "mock people who express their religion" were partly responsible for the shooting in Pittsburgh, an argument that the president had not yet made, but could have echo. Many conservative voters of Trump.

The comedians of the night. The people without grace in the television programs. It's always anti-religious, "Conway said Monday on the Fox News Channel.

"This is not the time to take God out of the public square," he said. "There's no time to make fun of people."

If Sanders' performance at his 23-minute press conference on Monday seemed, at some points, to hit a discourteous note, he was simply reflecting his boss's stance. It has strayed incongruously between trying to unify the country and attack its perceived enemies.

Sanders said the rhetoric of the rump is unlikely to change, and the public should expect it to attack the Democrats, or any rival, every time they feel attacked.

"The president will continue to fight when these individuals not only attack him, but also attack the members of his administration and the supporters of his administration," he said. "It does not matter if there is a middle ground or not, the president will defend himself and he will defend himself."

Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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