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 TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE, any semblance of unity in how to handle the issue had disappeared.

Even as new packages addressed to former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? 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 WatersDems digging into Trump finances post-Mueller Michael Steele: A missed opportunity at holding banks accountable On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars 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 Brennan10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators Overnight Defense: House votes to end US support for Yemen war | Vote expected to force Trump's second veto of presidency | More Russian troops may head to Venezuela | First 'Space Force' hearing set for next week 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 Scalise20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform GOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight MORE (R-La.) if he blamed Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersThe biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college 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 KavanaughJuan Williams: Buttigieg already making history Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Fight over census citizenship question hits Supreme Court 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 CollinsSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump GOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying 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 CruzTrump removes sanctions waivers on countries buying oil from Iran The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? Buttigieg steals Beto's thunder MORE (R-Texas), Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ky.) and several Trump administration officials have been confronted by protestors at restaurants and in airports, while House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Moulton enters 2020 White House race Trump takes aim at Dem talk of impeachment 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.”