However fair you think that criticism is, Trump's defenders are overcompensating for it. Rather than Trump himself dispelling this by reining in his usual ratings-and-crowd-size bluster and focusing on the people of Texas, he has left it to those around him to assure us the president is, in fact, a hugely empathetic person.
Emphasis on hugely.
Here's what Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Tuesday aboard Air Force One Tuesday night:
I will tell you that, in my conversations with the President and in my experience with the president — that his passion and his love for the American people and concern about their welfare is unending. And what he has seen in this is what all of us have seen when you watch the television and you see the situation — the tragic situation that many individuals are in. And his heart goes out to them, as does everybody's heart.
Here's White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the same briefing:
I think that the guiding principle here is taking care of Americans. I mean, that's the very core of who we are and that's something that the President has been very clear about.
At another White House briefing Tuesday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson assured us: “Compassion permeates everything that's been done here.”
And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered similar assurances during a Monday appearance on Fox News:
Most importantly was the compassion and concern that I could see on the president's face and his reactions. The president is very concerned about Texans and is very committed to helping us address our needs.
The point is that these assurances wouldn't be necessary if Trump was better at empathy. Whatever you think of the president, it's simply not his strong suit. And talking about ratings, crowd sizes and the sudden fame of his FEMA administrator while all of this is happening distracts from whatever empathy Trump may actually be conveying. It sounds like he's almost relishing the storm and the possibility for a big “win” for himself while people are still suffering.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) offered perhaps the most honest assessment of Trump's lack of empathy in a Wednesday morning appearance on CNN. He admitted Trump hadn't empathized in his initial visit, but he said the visit wasn't really about that:
CUOMO: People need it. You talked about the survivors — don't call them victims. You dealt with those empathy points; he didn't.CHRISTIE: He didn't yesterday, because he didn't see the people. I will tell you that when you see those people — and I know him, he won't be able to avoid and won't want to avoid hugging and making those people feel better. The fact is yesterday was a competence day. He was at the emergency operations center, with the governor. He was with his own Cabinet. I believe when he goes back on Saturday, and he starts to see victims and see real damage there is no damage as a human being you can’t see that and not be affected. I think you will see that personal side of the president come out then.
Points for honesty.
Trump did set about correcting this narrative himself on Wednesday morning, for what it's worth, offering a very empathetic tweet. We'll see whether he can keep it up, as Christie predicts.