It was, as always, all about Donald J. Trump.
On a mission to comfort victims of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, our president apparently couldn’t restrain himself from talking about the last time he was in town.
“That was some, that was some crowd,” he can be heard saying in a cell phone video. “And we had twice the number outside.”
The crowd at his rally was much bigger, he said, than the one at a competing event staged by the hometown boy, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke.
“Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot,” the president said. “They said his crowd was wonderful.”
The president raised the topic again in a meeting with law enforcement.
“You know, I just left, we made a speech here about three months ago, and we could’ve sold it out four times,” he said.
People were suffering, and the president was focused on his own star power.
That, of course, was not what his staff had in mind in announcing these visits.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham had suggested in a tweet that the president was a true leader who would rise above politics. She said he would focus on honoring victims, comforting communities and thanking first responders and medical professionals for their heroic efforts.
She should have known better.
As he left one grieving city on his way to another, the president was focused not on the victims of two mass shootings but on the perceived slight he had received from two Democratic politicians, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. The president fired off a tweet accusing the two of lying.
“Just left Dayton, Ohio, …” he wrote. “It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud.”
The president’s staff quickly switched gears. Dan Scavino Jr., the director of social media, joined in the president’s assault on Brown and Whaley.
“They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can,” he tweeted. “The president was treated like a rock star.”
Grisham joined in.
“The victims, families, medical staff and first responders were so happy to have their president and first lady there,” she told CNN. “I just don’t know why it can’t be acknowledged. It’s disgusting.”
Never mind that it wasn’t true.
“I’m really confused,” Whaley told the Cincinnati Enquirer on learning of the president’s complaint. “We said he was treated really well, so I don’t know what you could talk about misrepresenting. Well, he lives in his world of Twitter.”
None of that is to suggest Brown and Whaley are actually fans.
“I’ve said before Donald Trump is a bully and bullies are cowards,” Brown told CNN’s Daniel Dale in an email responding to the president’s criticism. “I don’t care what he says about me. But the people of Dayton deserve a President more focused on protecting them from gun violence than protecting his own ego.”
Some have suggested the president was unhappy with his own staff for keeping the cameras at bay. During his visit to El Paso, he spoke of the love and respect he had felt at that Dayton hospital.
“I wish you could have been in there to see it,” he said. “I wish you could have been in there.”
With any luck, someone captured it all on video. I’m sure he didn’t say anything about crowd sizes.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.