The night before President Trump departed for Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso to meet with mass shooting victims and first responders, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham set the tone.
“Tomorrow will be about honoring victims, comforting communities, and thanking first responders & medical professionals for their heroic actions,” Grisham tweeted late Tuesday.
But then, in the next sentence, she added: “President @realDonaldTrump is a true leader doing what’s right for this nation.”
This was about the locals, but it was apparently also about making sure Trump got his due credit.
And Wednesday didn’t disappoint on that front. After consoling victims and congratulating responders in Dayton, Trump and his aides made a point of angling for positive coverage and hitting at those who were insufficiently effusive in their praise of him. At one point, they attacked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D), despite the two Democrats praising his visit.
“Very SAD to see Ohio Senator Brown, & Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley — LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place w/ the President’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital today,” Trump social media director Dan Scavino tweeted. “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great President!”
Trump later echoed Scavino. “Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital,” he said.
Grisham added, according to Jeremy Diamond: “The victims, families, medical staff & first responders were so happy to have their President and First Lady there. I just don’t know why that can’t be acknowledged. It’s disgusting.”
The problem? Brown and Whaley actually said nice things about Trump’s hospital visit. In fact, neither criticized it.
“They were hurting. He was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things,” Brown said. “And it’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms.”
Whaley added: “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the President of the United States came to Dayton."
In their news conference, Brown and Whaley did criticize Trump for not pushing harder for new gun-control measures and for some of his rhetoric, and Whaley has been sharply critical of Trump this week. But that’s not what Scavino, Trump and Grisham cited; they cited the Democrats’ comments about his hospital visit. Brown and Whaley’s crimes appear to be not sufficiently acknowledging what a “Rock Star” and “true leader” Trump was during the visit.
Whaley appeared dumbfounded at Trump’s tweet when she first saw it:
On top of all that, the White House barred press photographers from the president’s hospital visit, saying they didn’t want it to devolve into “a photo op.” Yet very shortly after the visit, Trump tweeted out a slickly produced video prominently featuring the very somber-looking president visiting the hospital.
This trip was always likely to get bogged down in politics. Emotions are too raw, and Democrats believe it’s important to mention the role they believe Trump’s rhetoric can play in such tragedies and making the case for gun control. And Trump can’t let anything slide, no matter the circumstances.
But the Trump White House appears to be picking a very strange fight. And judging by how they set up the trip, it seems as though it was a fight they were girding for and are now trying to force.