ANALYSIS | The recipients of explosive devices sent this week have so far shared a commonality: harsh criticism by President Donald Trump and far-right followers.
But White House officials were in no mood Wednesday to entertain the notion that the president’s descriptions of Democrats as “evil” and news organizations as the “enemy of the people” might have helped lead a bomber to build devices and mail them to Democratic mega-donor George Soros, former President Barack Obama, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and CNN. A building in Miami that houses an office for former Democratic National Committee head Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was also evacuated Wednesday.
Trump’s aides declined to comment beyond a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemning what she called “attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures.”
“These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards,” Sanders said. Vice President Mike Pence later tweeted his condemnation of the attempted bombings; Trump tweeted this agreement.
I agree wholeheartedly! https://t.co/ndzu0A30vU
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2018
But the matter has one glaring common denominator: Trump’s sharp rhetoric about each recipient and a highly partisan midterm election that has only deepened a widely divided country’s tribal wounds.
“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” chanted a rally crowd Monday night in Houston, where Trump was firing up the base as he and Sen. Ted Cruz tried to keep the senator’s seat in Republican hands.
Trump pivoted from one topic to the next in the manner that defines his raucous stream-of-consciousness rallies, heading straight toward a line sure to ignite the Toyota Center crowd: “If you want the fake news to finally investigate Hillary Clinton, we’ll just have…”
That’s when the familiar chant broke out.
“Man,” an impressed Trump said before trying to pass off any responsibility: “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” But if the president was concerned his constant calls for his former political foe to face a federal investigation, it certainly didn’t stop him.
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“So if you want them to investigate, we’ll just have to nominate Hillary Clinton to the United States Supreme Court. How do you like that?” he said as the crowd booed loudly. “Right? Let’s see how she does. If [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh had to go through what he went through … can you imagine Hillary up there? That would take three to four years of questions.”
His supporters laughed in unison.
Trump used the line about Clinton to move into his ramped-up rhetoric about all Democrats, saying the midterms are all about preventing “the radical Democrat mob” from taking “a giant wrecking ball and destroy our country and our economy.”
Monday night’s rally alone featured multiple sharp attacks on Democrats as the president eagerly accuses the opposition party of being the “party of crime” that wants to allow undocumented migrants pour over the U.S.-Mexico border to flood the country with crime and drugs while raising taxes and ending programs like Social Security and Medicaid.
He blasted Texas Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke for voting for what he called “Obama amnesty.”
Trump told the crowd in Houston that Immigration and Border Control officers are fighting “a war” against undocumented individuals — and he essentially told them to blame Obama.
“They go in and they take them and they throw them into the paddy wagon, then get them the hell out of our country. We’ve removed thousands, thousands of them. They came in through the wonderful Obama administration. We removed thousands and thousands of these people,” he said. “And the towns are liberated. … I’m telling you, it’s like a war.”
Watching a single “Make America Great Again” rally shows how the president’s supporters direct their ire at his political foes, especially Clinton and CNN.
A mere mention of the “fake news media” elicited an unprompted chant in Houston: “CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks!”
“I don’t like them either, OK?” Trump said.
Trump is slated to lead rallies Wednesday night in Wisconsin, Friday night in North Carolina and Saturday in Illinois. White House officials gave no indication that he is considering canceling one or all in an attempt to cool down the country’s white-hot political climate.
Sanders did not respond to an email asking whether Trump is concerned his words might have played a role in the bomber’s mindset, and if he might cancel one or all of those rallies.
Wasserman-Schultz has been a target of Trump’s rhetoric for several years, with her stint at the DNC putting her on his radar. As the 2016 general election was about to heat up, Trump fired off this tweet: “The highly neurotic Debbie Wasserman Schultz is angry that, after stealing and cheating her way to a Crooked Hillary victory, she’s out!”
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Then there’s Soros. Trump on Oct. 5 lashed out at Soros in a tweet, blaming him for financing left-wing protesters who lined Capitol Hill hallways and Washington streets objecting to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love!” the president tweeted, adding this hashtag: “#Troublemakers.”
The president has also floated the idea, without evidence, that Democrats are financing a caravan of Central American migrants making its way through Mexico and heading for the U.S. border.
“It was organized by leftist organizations and financed by Venezuela,” Pence said Monday in the Oval Office before being interrupted by his boss. “And the Democrats, maybe? And the Democrats?” Trump asked with a chuckle.
“Well,” Pence started to say before he was cut off. CNN’s Jim Acosta then asked Trump for proof of the Democrat’s involvement.
“You know what? You’re going to find out, and we’re going to see,” he said, again offering no evidence.
The list of targets grew as did the glare of their shared commonality. Sanders responded with a second statement around midday Wednesday, this time via Twitter.
“Our condemnation of these dispicable [sic] acts certainly includes threats made to CNN as well as current or former public servants,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of explosive devices mailed to the news network and several prominent Democratic politicians and donors. “These cowardly acts are unacceptable and wont be tolerated.”
This is an ongoing situation that President Trump and his admin are monitoring closely. Our condemnation of these dispicable acts certainly includes threats made to CNN as well as current or former public servants. These cowardly acts are unacceptable and wont be tolerated. https://t.co/YbMbCUWMPC
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) October 24, 2018