Unity fizzles as president, lawmakers, media point fingers

Less than 24 hours after a series of pipe bombs were mailed to top Democrats and critics of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE, any semblance of unity in how to handle the issue had disappeared.

Even as new packages addressed to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Biden pitches new subsidies, public option in health care plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE and the actor Robert De Niro were discovered, Republicans and Democrats were back in their partisan corners, pointing fingers at each other for causing an ugly political climate that’s taken a violent turn just days before the midterm elections.

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Democrats insisted Trump deserves blame for statements that have condoned violence, while the president on Thursday linked the media’s “fake news” to rising public anger. 

Other key voices on the right even suggested the explosive devices themselves were fake, and that they might have been part of a Democratic “false flag” operation to shift the political conversation from the migrant caravan slowly making its way to the U.S. border with Mexico.

The bomb scare — and the ensuing reaction from many public figures — represented a fraught political moment for both parties. With House and Senate majorities up for grabs on Nov. 6, candidates have been demonizing their opponents and stoking fear and division for political gain.

Some said they were reminded of the late 1960s, a decade punctuated by political assassinations during which members of the Weathermen and other groups vowed to conduct acts of violence as part of an effort to end the Vietnam War.

“We've reached a very low point,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “Things aren't aren’t quite as bad as they were in the 1960s when there was a lot of civil unrest and violence. But the situation is dangerous when people get pipe bombs in the mail.”

Trump, Democrats and the elements of the media have predictably offered different targets for blame.

The president, one morning after calling for people to unify and “come together,” tweeted Thursday that the “fake news” media was inciting anger.

“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”

Democrats, including some of those targeted by the bomber, point the finger at Trump.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersFed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks Hillicon Valley: Trump officials to investigate French tax on tech giants | Fed chair raises concerns about Facebook's crypto project | FCC blocks part of San Francisco law on broadband competition | House members warn of disinformation 'battle' Fed chief: Facebook crypto project poses 'serious concerns' for economy, consumers MORE (D-Calif.), a day after learning that two packages were addressed to her offices, was featured in a video on Thursday tearing into Trump.

“I think the president of the United States should take responsibility for the kind of violence that we're seeing for the first time in different ways,” Waters, who has been denigrated as “low IQ” by Trump, said in a video posted by Blavity.

Former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanA brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Trump critic Brennan praises his Iran decision: I 'applaud' him Schumer: Trump must get congressional approval before any military action against Iran MORE, another target of the bomber, also pointed the finger at Trump.   

“Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump has not helped to encourage the type of civil discourse and public engagement,” he said at the University of Texas at Austin. “And his rhetoric — too frequently, I think — fuels these feelings and sentiments that now are bleeding over into potentially acts of violence.”

Democratic leaders in Congress on Wednesday had also criticized Trump, as did CNN President Jeff Zucker, whose network’s New York City offices were evacuated after the explosive mailed to Brennan was sent there.

“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said Wednesday. “The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded in a tweet that accused CNN of “seeking to divide.”

“[Trump] asked Americans ‘to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the USA.’ Yet you chose to attack and divide. America should unite against all political violence,” she wrote.

On Fox News, one morning host, seeking to make a point about the blame Democrats are foisting upon Trump, asked House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings Democrats' opposition research got exposed — this time, not by the Russians MORE (R-La.) if he blamed Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires MORE (I-Vt.) for getting shot last year. Scalise looked somewhat taken aback or confused by the question before stating that he did not.

Scalise was gravely wounded in June 2017 when a man opened fire on a GOP congressional baseball practice. The man backed Sanders, and his attack was seen as politically motivated.

Separately, some pushed the idea that the bombs sent to the Democrats weren’t real at all.

A woman was photographed outside of Florida’s gubernatorial debate on Wednesday holding a sign that said “Democrats Fake News Fake Bombs.”

Fox Business Anchor Lou Dobbs tweeted “Fake News-Fake Bombs” before deleting the tweet.

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested that a “Democratic operative” may have been responsible for the explosive devices and suspicious packages.

“Republicans just don't do this kind of thing,” Limbaugh said during his radio show on Wednesday.

Bannon, the Democratic strategist, said there was plenty of blame to go around.

Just weeks ago, the bitter confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic infighting threatens 2020 unity Ex-DCCC official: McGrath comments on Kavanaugh vote not 'a death sentence' Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' MORE cranked up a political climate that was already at a boil. And part of the GOP’s closing argument to voters ahead of the midterms has centered on portraying Democrats as an “angry mob” hell-bent on taking down Trump’s presidency.

“There's overheated rhetoric on the talk shows, from politicians of both parties and social media,” he said. “The job of a president is to bring Americans together during a crisis. But he is an angry demagogue who pours gasoline on a raging fire to create an inferno of hate and violence.”

While political observers say the breakdown in civility and culture is partly a response to Trump, they also note that politics was growing increasingly polarized even before his ascension to the White House.

In 2011, then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) survived a gunshot wound to the head during a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson. The gunman killed six people and injured many others.

Two months after the shooting that nearly killed Scalise and seriously injuring a Capitol Police officer, lobbyist and congressional aide, white supremacists violently clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. The fighting turned deadly when a vehicle allegedly driven by a man attending the white supremacist rally plowed into the counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring scores of others.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans make U-turn on health care Children urge Congress to renew funds for diabetes research Justice Democrats issues 3 new endorsements for progressive candidates MORE (R-Maine) and other key players in the Kavanaugh confirmation fight faced death threats during the bitter weeks-long debate.

And Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators ask for federal investigation into social media companies' decision-making The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Ted Cruz blasts Tennessee GOP governor for declaration honoring early KKK leader MORE (R-Texas), Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) and several Trump administration officials have been confronted by protestors at restaurants and in airports, while House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNYT's Friedman repeatedly says 's---hole' in tirade against Trump on CNN GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets 'obviously not racist' On the USMCA, Pelosi can't take yes for an answer MORE (D-Calif.) was recently heckled by a group of “Proud Boys” during a Florida campaign event.

The recent incidents have only further fueled concern about political fights getting out of hand in the run-up to a potentially volatile and closely watched midterm election.

“This isn't the way that we should expect America to be turning. You are seeing more and more of this and clearly you are seeing it on both sides,” Scalise told Fox News on Wednesday evening. “We all need to be calling it out.”