“Presidential Harassment!”, Donald Trump tweeted, at 7:59 AM on Sunday. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”, he shrieked, seconds later.
A few minutes previous, the president insisted the Washington Post is telling lies about his administration and spinning yarns about how aides and Republican confidants responded after he advised Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came” a week ago.
Trump’s “go back” tweets earned him a congressional rebuke in the form a resolution condemning his remarks as racist. Then, at a Wednesday evening rally in North Carolina, Trump incited the crowd to chant “send her back” after regaling the audience with a series of lies intended to paint Omar as a terrorist.
The president attempted to throw his own supporters under the bus on Thursday. “I didn’t say it, they did”, he told reporters at the White House, when quizzed about the chant. He demurred when asked if he would tell them not to say it again at future rallies. “It was quite a chant”, he mused.
According to a new piece in the Washington Post, Trump’s July 14 tweets caught even his notoriously aggressive campaign flat-footed. “Trump’s own campaign… was caught off guard by the tweets and didn’t know initially how to respond”, the Post says. “Top aides had been bragging about their ability to fundraise and capitalize on social media advertising when the president blew up the news cycle [but] they placed no Facebook ads to ride this wave”.
Nobody, advisers said, wanted to touch this.
The GOP came under immense pressure on Monday and Tuesday. The silence, as they say, was deafening. But it wasn’t just that Republicans were reluctant to criticize Trump in public. Their hesitation was on display at the weekly GOP lunch on Tuesday as well. “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people”, Mitch McConnell reportedly said, quoting a famous phrase from Antonin Scalia. Steve Daines defended Trump at the lunch. “Let’s not lose sight of, frankly, the radical views that are coming out of the House”, Daines told the Post. One senior GOP senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity (which says a lot about how terrified the party is of this president), called Trump’s tweets “dump politics”, at minimum.
Inside the White House, aides and advisors worked to spin things. The message, one Trump aide told the Post, needed to be shifted “back to a place where we could defend the president”. Implicit is the notion that in their original form, Trump’s tweets were simply indefensible.
On the Hill, Republicans sought to amplify the notion that Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley “hate America” and “were welcome to leave for that reason”. It says a lot about the state of the Republican party when the fallback strategy – the purportedly “softer” touch – is to falsely claim that four women of color “hate America” by twisting their words and telling outright lies about four sitting congresswomen.
Trump, the Post says, became “obsessed” with the vote tally on the resolution to condemn his words. “Aides fed him a constant stream of lawmaker reactions and put him on the phone with several lawmakers”, sources said. The president, the Post writes, “told his team to tell any wafflers that he loves America and that they needed to pick sides”.
By Wednesday evening, when Trump was wheels down in North Carolina for the now infamous rally, Republicans thought the storm had likely passed. Hilariously, the Post notes that “A White House aide urged the traveling press pool to be sure to ‘tune in’ to the rally, implying it was not something they would want to miss”.
That aide was correct. The rally was indeed a spectacle – only not the kind the GOP wanted to see.
As the Post reminds you, Trump did not, in fact, “start speaking pretty quickly” to quiet the crowd, as he later claimed. Rather, he stood silent for 13 full seconds, looking around at his supporters, and basking in the hate effusing from the crowd.
Back in Washington, the chant created a new crisis for the GOP. “Even for some Republicans… it was a nightmare scenario suggesting that the nativism at the heart of Trump’s Sunday tweet — that nonwhite citizens had less claim on the country — would soon become a fixture of the campaign”, the Post writes, adding that the next morning, Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney, “huddled at the vice president’s residence to figure out how to deal with the danger of the chant catching on. Pence agreed to take the matter to the president”.
But it didn’t matter. Trump has criticized the four congresswomen on at least a half-dozen occasions since his daughter Ivanka, first lady Melania and Pence tried to intervene on Thursday.
Kellyanne Conway was reportedly the first person to take a stab at explaining to Trump why his tweets were trending all over the country when he got back from golfing last weekend. “After he returned to the White House, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway felt compelled to tell him why the missives were leading newscasts around the country, upsetting allies and enraging opponents”, the Post writes. Conway, apparently, didn’t believe the president “fully understood what he had done”.
Trump tried to explain. “He had been watching ‘Fox & Friends’ after waking up”, the Post writes, almost pityingly. The president was just trying to “elevate” the four women in order to perpetuate the idea that they represented the Democratic party. Although Trump discussed plans to magnify AOC, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley with campaign manager Brad Parscale, he did not consult Parscale (or anyone else) before sending the tweets.
“He realized that part of it was not playing well”, Lindsey Graham told the Post. “Well, he always doubles down. Then he adjusts”.
On Sunday morning, Trump was back at it. “I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country”, he tweeted.
The president also claimed the Post’s story “is Fake News”. Referring to the North Carolina rally, Trump said “the only thing people were talking about is the record setting crowd and the tremendous enthusiasm”.
Obviously, Trump knows that isn’t true. The chant and two hashtags associated with it (#IStandWithIlhan and the competing #IStandWithTrump) were at the top of the trending list on Twitter all day on Thursday. “Send her back” was, frankly, the only thing anyone was talking about, both among Trump’s detractors and his supporters.
Trump also claimed on Sunday that the Post’s sources “do not exist”.
WaPo interviewed 26 people for the article, some of whom, including allies Lindsey Graham and Steve Daines, on the record.