President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Leah Millis | Reuters
WASHINGTON — Looking back now, the night of Feb. 4 was probably the pinnacle of Donald Trump’s presidency.
A few minutes past 9 p.m. ET, Trump entered the ornate House Chamber and then glad-handed his way down the aisle, all to the sound of thundering applause from Republicans, who chanted “four more years.”
This was Trump’s third State of the Union address. The 90-minute speech Trump delivered was packed with the confidence, self-flattery and showmanship that have become hallmarks of his tenure.
The speech also reflected his optimism about the economy, a sentiment that millions of Americans shared with him at the time, according to polls. Financial markets were soaring and the unemployment rate was at a historic low. That afternoon, the Nasdaq Composite Index had set a record high, at 9,467. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, an indicator Trump often touts, closed at 28,807 that day, already well on its way to an all-time high of 29,551 it would hit later that month.
The economy wasn’t the only thing Trump was celebrating that Tuesday night. A day earlier, in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, won the popular vote. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist who would not fare as well against Trump in the general election as former Vice President Joe Biden would, according to polling.
Trump also knew that the next day he would be acquitted in his impeachment trial in the Senate. For Trump, the verdict would represent a long-awaited triumph over his perceived enemies, including Democrats in Congress, whistleblowers in his own White House, and the “deep state” government bureaucrats who Trump feared were plotting to bring him down.
With his impeachment trial behind him and his approval ratings the highest they had ever been, Trump seemed perfectly positioned to easily win reelection in November.
And, now, almost all of it is gone.
In just over a month, three pillars underpinning his argument for reelection have all collapsed: The strong economy Trump planned to run on; the Sanders campaign Trump had planned to run against; and the “us vs. them” approach to Washington and the federal government, on which Trump has built his political brand.
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 4, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
On Wednesday, the Dow fell below the level it closed at on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before Trump took office promising to “make America wealthy again.” The market losses reflect broader anxieties across the nation, where coronavirus has forced the shutdown of major parts of the U.S. economy and made a recession all but inevitable.
Meanwhile, Sanders and the far-left progressive movement he promised to build have failed to win over Democratic primary voters. Instead, they are poised to nominate an experienced moderate, Biden, to run against Trump in the fall.
Back in Washington, Trump is trying to orchestrate a sprawling federal response to the coronavirus epidemic bolstered by a White House message machine that churns out daily praise releases hailing Trump’s “whole-of-government” approach.
But by spearheading a massive handout of federal money through big government programs, Trump undermines one of the central tenets of Trumpism: his belief that the federal government is a corrupt, bloated and broken institution, at that the “unelected bureaucrats” who fill its ranks are not to be trusted.
“The coronavirus crisis has exposed Trump as not being well-prepared and himself as not being a hard worker,” said Matthew Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicano studies at UCLA.
“When everything is going well, these deep character flaws are hidden. But when a major crisis hits, voters will remember that Trump was completely asleep, and even passed along misleading and false information.”
As of Thursday morning, there were more than 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and more than 150 Americans had died from it. The stock market has had nonstop volatility, and jobless claims for last week jumped ahead of a likely surge in layoffs.
Already, polls are showing that voters have more confidence in the federal government as a whole, than they do in the president. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll found that 62% of respondents have confidence in the federal government to handle the coronavirus crisis, compared with 48% who said they had confidence in Trump.
The end of prosperity?
“Since my election, U.S. stock markets have soared 70%, adding more than $12 trillion to our nation’s wealth, transcending anything anyone believed was possible,” Trump said during his State of the Union address in February.
The U.S. economy, he said, is “moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back.” On Feb. 12, eight days after Trump promised Americans a future filled with endless growth, the Dow hit its record high.
But now, less than eight weeks later, panic over the coronavirus pandemic has rendered the president’s promises hollow. Markets have fallen more than 30% in a matter of days. Much of the wealth Trump claimed credit for has been erased.
Many analysts now predict the U.S. economy could shrink by 5% in the second quarter of this year, as schools, bars, restaurants, theaters, gyms and workplaces across the country are shuttered for weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. On Wednesday, a JPMorgan analyst warned the Q2 contraction could be up to 14%.
Major airlines are in danger of bankruptcy as travelers cancel trips and stay close to home, some by choice, and others under orders from state and local governments. All of this is expected to continue well into the summer, Trump said Monday, although it could be “longer than that.”
Economists and investors now appear resigned to the fact that the U.S. economy will enter into a recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. The only questions remaining now are how long the recession will last, and how deep it will cut.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly told Senate Republicans that, barring a massive government intervention in the economy, the U.S. unemployment rate could soar to 20% within months. Asked about the comments at a briefing on Wednesday, Mnuchin said the figure was “an absolute total worst case scenario,” but not something Mnuchin ever believed would actually happen.
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, right, speaks beside U.S. President Donald Trump during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images.
But whether the final figure turns out to be merely bad or catastrophic, history indicates that they’re going to be terrible for Trump’s reelection prospects.
“It would be very difficult for the president to survive in November” if the economy sinks into recession, said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution. “I can’t think of a precedent for it.”
Despite the dire economic warning signs, though, Trump’s reelection campaign still claims ownership for what it calls “the Trump economy.”
“The underlying fundamentals of the Trump economy are strong, and President Trump is ensuring that the robust prosperity Americans are experiencing is here to stay,” Kayleigh McEnany, a top campaign spokeswoman, told CNBC.
Trump’s Democratic opponents, she said, would “undo the Trump economy.”
This kind of boundless economic optimism has long been a part of Trump’s political DNA. So has Trump’s willingness to ignore economic reality in order to paint a sunnier picture than facts on the ground support, whether it be of the financial markets, the U.S. economy, his own personal wealth, or his business deals.
Markets did indeed reverse on Friday after a month of historic declines, and rise sharply. But Trump’s tweet is still deeply misleading. Friday’s market surge was an outlier data point, and Trump was using it to mask a larger reality. Stocks resumed their drastic declines this week.
With the election and a potential recession looming, Trump’s habit of pretending the economy is doing better than it really is becomes increasingly risky, said Galston.
“Trump has to be careful now, not to say things that contradict the evidence of ordinary people’s experiences, what’s right in front of them every day,” he said.
“As president, you can say almost anything you want about Afghanistan, or Iran, or court cases. But when tens of millions of families are having difficulty and experiencing personal pain, you can’t tell them the sky is blue when it’s green,” he said.
The Biden bump
Trump is hardly the first candidate to see the bottom drop out of their biggest campaign promise. But there’s a saying in politics: If you can’t convince voters that you’re the best guy, then convince them that your opponent is the worst. Trump is a master of this kind of negative campaigning.
“Americans of all political beliefs are sick and tired of the radical, rage-filled left socialists,” Trump said at a campaign rally in New Jersey in late January. “Really, the Democrat Party is the socialist party and maybe worse.” Later in the rally. Trump claimed that Democrats “have never been more extreme than they are right now,” adding: “These people are crazy. They’re taking their cues from socialists like Bernie [Sanders].”
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during Bernie Sanders Rally “Bernie’s Back” in Queensbridge Park.
Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images
When Trump said this, polls were in fact showing Sanders with a comfortable lead in a crowded Democratic field, so there were likely some Democrats taking cues from him.
And it’s also true that Sanders has embraced the label of “democratic socialist,” and he has made no secret of his admiration for “Nordic model” economies, which use heavy taxation to redistribute wealth and fund a vast social welfare system.
For Trump, Sanders’ early success in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada came as very good news. Long before the Democratic primaries began, Trump had been ginning up his supporters for more than a year with wild claims about how Democrats are all socialists bent on destroying free markets.
As long as Sanders was in the lead, Trump had the best possible platform for making dark prophecies about what the socialist takeover of America by a President Sanders might look like. Reelecting Trump was the last best hope voters had, the de facto choice for anyone who didn’t relish the idea of the United States becoming the next Venezuela, the reasoning went.
When Trump swore in his State of the Union address in February that he would “never let socialism destroy American health care,” he was taking a direct shot at Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan.
The night Trump pledged to save America from Sanders, Biden’s campaign was at a crossroads. He had just placed fourth in the Iowa caucus, a finish even the candidate admitted was “a gut punch.”
The following week, Biden finished a distant fifth in the New Hampshire primary, and then placed second in the Nevada caucus. By then, the Biden campaign was practically on life support. Millions of Democrats around the country were waking up to the very real possibility that Sanders — who isn’t even a registered Democrat, he’s an independent — would be atop the party’s ticket come November.
But everything changed on Feb. 29, when Biden demolished the rest of the Democratic field in South Carolina’s highly anticipated primary. It was the first primary in the South, and Biden won by a jaw-dropping margin of nearly 30 points.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden talks with supporters at a campaign event at Wofford University February 28, 2020 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images
Since then, Biden has won the lion’s share of Democratic primaries and delegates. On Tuesday night, the former vice president won contests in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, cementing his near-insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders.
All this good news for Biden, however, is bad news for Trump.
“Trump was very much hoping to run against Bernie Sanders and play the so-called socialism card, and now that plan has also fallen apart,” said Baretto of UCLA. “Vice President Biden is going to be a very formidable opponent, who has more experience than Trump does in the White House.”
To make matters worse for Trump, Biden has firsthand experience responding to a national economic crisis, which gives him a unique vantage point from which to challenge Trump’s decisions.
“You are going to hear Biden talk more and more about his role in the 2009 economic recovery package that he helped promote during the Obama administration,” Baretto said.
“The 2008 recession was very severe. Looking back, most economists give the Obama administration a lot of credit for stabilizing the economy, and Biden played a role in that.”
As Sanders’ primary campaign fades away, expect to see the Trump campaign working hard to saddle Biden with Sanders’ most polarizing political baggage.
“Democrats are choosing between two far-left extremists who seek to open our borders, destroy millions of jobs by eliminating fossil fuels, and oppose travel restrictions” that helped limit the spread of coronavirus, McEnany told CNBC.
Moments later, McEnany linked them together again, saying, “both Bernie and Biden would undo the Trump economy and lack the leadership necessary to guide our country through the pandemic that President Trump is navigating with a whole of America approach.”
The ‘invisible enemy’
As Trump and his administration begin to cobble together a massive, government-managed, trillion-dollar stimulus package to blunt the economic effects of coronavirus, yet another piece of Trump’s reelection pitch is falling apart: Trump’s insistence that he is at war against “big government,” a “rigged system” that he claims is controlled by his enemies, Democrats, the media, “deep state,” and the “swamp.”
In 2016, Trump won the presidency in part because his supporters believed that he would dismantle a corrupt ruling class of lobbyists and technocrats, “drain the swamp,” and “downsize the bloated federal bureaucracy.”
Four years later, federal agencies have indeed been gutted, largely through a combination of attrition, budget cuts, “streamlining” and low morale.
But all of a sudden, in the face of coronavirus, Trump’s pledge to fight the administrative state and “drain the swamp” has been sidelined in favor of phrases like “a whole-of-government approach.”
As frightened, desperate Americans have increasingly looked to the federal government for help, Trump has pulled an about-face in recent days, after weeks of downplaying and dismissing the threat from coronavirus. Starting this week, Trump has donned the mantle of big government himself, taking credit for the federal response and attacking the news media for any perceived criticism of it.
Yet transforming oneself abruptly from a crusader battling the evils of big government into a benevolent bureaucrat ready to dole out big government bailouts, set up task forces and send people checks in the mail, isn’t easy.
Already, Trump’s deep cuts to the federal workforce over the past three years have come back to haunt him.
President Donald Trump announces his decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
Last week, Trump came under fire over the 2018 closure of the National Security Council’s global health office in the White House, which was responsible for coordinating pandemic responses. When a reporter asked the president about the closure of the office, Trump became defensive and flustered, calling the question “nasty” and saying he knew nothing about the move.
“It’s the administration, perhaps they do that,” Trump said, apparently referring to his own administration.
In order for Trump to make a cogent argument for reelection, he will need to find a way to reconcile the two contradictory versions of himself that he’s currently projecting. There’s precoronavirus Trump, who built an entire presidency on principles such as not giving away government benefits for free and not trusting career bureaucrats. And there’s post-coronavirus Trump, who tweeted out this message, previously unthinkable, on Wednesday morning.
“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” the president said.
Brookings’ Galston described Trump’s current predicament succinctly.
“It sure is easy to hate government until you need it.”
Correction: This story was updated to clarify how polls characterize Sanders’ chances against Trump in the general election.
Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel
The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.
A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.
Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.
Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.
As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.
In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.
On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.
In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.
Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.
The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.
“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.
“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”
Separately, last Wednesday, a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.
The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.
Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN
In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.
Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.
While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.
As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.
The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.
Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.
“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.
But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”
After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”
The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.
But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.
“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”
Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.
It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.
“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”
As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.
Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.
“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.
Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”
“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”
But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.
“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”
Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”
Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.
With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”
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