San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, seen here in a file photo, has been feuding with President Trump over the government’s response to the widespread hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When President Trump arrives in Puerto Rico on Tuesday he may come face-to-face with the his newest foe: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

The attacks on Cruz by Trump, which have been continued on a daily basis by his allies inside and outside of the White House, turned a dispute over the federal response to the devastation left by Hurricane Maria into a personal grudge match.

Trump and his supporters have used social media to push a relentless onslaught against Cruz, accusing her of launching politically motivated attacks against him. Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, has sent a flurry of tweets defending his father and has liked tweets sent by other Trump allies tying Cruz to a convicted Puerto Rican terrorist and alleging that she supported violent protests.

But while the president's penchant for escalating conflicts has been a hallmark of his time as a political figure, the harsh and highly personal attacks during a time of crisis may only serve to harden the public perception that he is not fully focused on the response to the storm.

"Most disaster victims aren't paying attention," said former FEMA administrator Michael Brown, who was the subject of intense criticism for his handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in 2005. "But those that do hear about it, it probably frustrates the hell out of them because they're like why are you fighting? Help us."

By making Cruz an adversary, the president's comments turned the mayor of a city of less than 400,000 people into a nationally known figure, elevated her criticisms of his administration and added a new level of tension to his trip to the island on Tuesday.

"Trump took the bait," said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide. "She wasn't a credible person at the beginning but he probably made her more credible than she deserves."

Trump, frustrated that his administration's efforts were being disparaged, lashed out in a flurry of tweets over the weekend that singled out Cruz and accused her of lodging partisan attacks against him.

In a Saturday morning tweet, he lambasted Cruz's "poor leadership" and accused her of failing to get Puerto Rican workers to help in their own recovery efforts. 

"The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump," the president wrote.

In a subsequent message that did not name her, Trump slammed "politically motivated ingrates" who failed to praise the federal relief efforts.

The president's critics jumped to Cruz's defense online, circulating images of the mayor wading in chest-deep water with a bullhorn searching for stranded people and hugging elderly storm victims to counter the president's characterization of her leadership.

Yet Trump's message was quickly reinforced and amplified by White House aides, Trump Jr., and allies like former aide Sebastian Gorka, who characterized Cruz' pleas for more help for Puerto Ricans as a politically motivated stunt.

From his personal twitter account, White House director of social media Dan Scavino labeled Cruz a Trump "hater" and a "perfect example of an opportunistic politician."

In other tweets, Trump Jr. retweeted an article from a right-wing site known for trafficking in falsehoods, Gateway Pundit, that highlighted Cruz' support for Trump's presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton.

Friction between federal and local officials isn't unusual during the response to natural disasters when resources are limited and emotions run high. And it is not unusual for the federal government to take the blame for failing to respond quickly enough to the plight of the people on the ground.

During Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush was accused by rapper Kanye West during a televised disaster relief drive of not deploying resources quickly enough to help poor African American people in New Orleans who had been hit the hardest by the storm's destructive flooding.

"George Bush doesn't care about black people," West said, in a moment that Bush later characterized as a low point of his presidency.

But according to former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Bush demanded that he and his aides take the high road in moments like that.

"With President Bush's staff, the instructions were really to let those slights go," Fleischer said. "Let those slights go and rise above it."

Not with Trump.

As a presidential candidate, Trump infamously had few boundaries when it came to who he would criticize if he felt he had been wronged.

He discounted Republican Sen. John McCain's military service during the Vietnam War, arguing that he was "not a war hero" because he had been captured as a prisoner of war. He engaged in a days-long feud with a Gold Star family who had spoken at the Democratic National Convention in support of Clinton. And he slammed former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado for having gained a "massive amount of weight" after winning the contest.

But Trump's willingness to engage in a personal feud with the San Juan mayor from his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., while his administration worked feverishly to respond to an urgent humanitarian crisis seemed to cross a new line for some on the ground in Puerto Rico.

"I have no reaction," said former Lt. General Russel L. Honoré, who commanded the military response to Hurricane Katrina during an interview on CNN Saturday. "The mayor is living on a cot and I hope the president has a good day at golf."

Ahead of Trump's visit to the island, the White House seemed to be downplaying his harsh criticism of Cruz, saying she had been invited to participate in the official visit.

"Look, right now our focus is to bring the mayor into the coordination efforts," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "This administration, as well as other members on the ground, have reached out to her. 

"We hope that she will join with us in those efforts and be part of things," she added.

Others argued the president muddied his message by focusing on personal attacks instead of highlighting a real problem with Cruz's alleged failure to coordinate with federal efforts.

"If local governments, mayors and county commissioners don't show up at the incident command center, if they don't show up and plug themselves in, there's no way for the governor to know exactly what he needs," said Brown. "I just kind of wish he had walked to the microphones and said 'you know mayor I'm not going to get into a public spat with you.

"It would not have been as much of a distraction," he added.