Sadly, a presidency is often defined by a national tragedy and not triumph. A disaster can make or break a presidency. Will the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton make or break one of the 2020 presidential candidates?
Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFormer President Clinton discharged from hospital The root of Joe Biden's troubles Bill Clinton expected to be released from hospital on Sunday MORE was struggling in 1994. Then in April 1995, the nation was horrified when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people and wounded hundreds of others. President Clinton made a moving speech at the memorial service in the city that brought the nation together and solidified his presidency.
The Constitution gives the president little to do except to administer the executive branch and act as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Donald Trump has found this out the hard way. Countless times, he has been rebuffed by federal courts or by Congress even when his own party controlled both houses. Remember, TrumpCare was rejected by a GOP controlled Congress.
Recognizing the limitations of the office, President Theodore Roosevelt used the White House as a “Bully Pulpit” — but President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE is just a bully with a pulpit. Back in March, the president appeared to threaten his opponents with violence.
In an interview with Breitbart News, the president said, “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the support of tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
The president constantly hypes violence by his opponents, but Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperButtigieg says delay in climate action will cost lives amid reports of Manchin roadblock Buttigieg says supply chain troubles could last into next year Kinzinger defends not supporting voting rights act: 'Democrats have to quit playing politics' MORE of CNN reported that the White House had rebuffed efforts by his own Department of Homeland Security to make domestic terrorism a higher priority.
USA Today columnist Raul Reyes noted that Trump often uses the words “invasion” and “infestation” to describe Hispanic immigration. This is the president who said, “I think my rhetoric brings people together.”
There’s no constitutional requirement that the president act to unify the nation at times of turmoil and tragedy but several presidents have done it enthusiastically. Sadly, Trump is inherently incapable of bringing Americans together.
It’s clear the president just isn’t up to the job.
He wore out his welcome before he even arrived in El Paso and Dayton in the wake of recent mass shootings in both cities. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and El Paso Congresswoman Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP Three Democrats call for investigation into Sidney Powell to move 'swiftly' WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill MORE both asked the president to stay away. The victims of the shooting hospitalized in the University Medical Center in El Paso refused to see Trump when he visited. Can you blame them?
During the flight from Dayton to El Paso on Air Force One, Trump couldn’t resist the temptation —while the nation was mourning — to mount gratuitous political Twitter attacks against Whaley and “failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities US on track to miss debt payments as soon as Oct. 19: analysis On The Money — Presented by NRHC — Democrats cross the debt ceiling Rubicon MORE”. (For the record Brown who represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate didn’t fail because he didn’t run.)
Trump’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. In El Paso, the president feigned sympathy for the victims, several of them Mexican nationals. The president preached unity after he goaded white supremacists into action.
The president ignored the fact that he had previously demonized Mexican immigrants, calling them smugglers and drug dealers, and that the shooter was a Trump acolyte who was, so hell-bent on killing Latinos that he made a 600-mile drive to a border city with the expressed intention to commit multiple murders.
The low point of the trip was a photo of Trump with a baby whose mother and father were killed in the massacre. The president is grinning while he gives a thumbs up. The baby will see this picture years from now, likely cry and wonder how the President of the United States could be so insensitive.
All the Democratic presidential candidates had a chance to react to the shootings, but the moment was made for Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin lays down demands for child tax credit: report Abrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability MORE.
The former Vice President is certainly gaff prone, but he hit the mark in the wake of these terrible tragedies. He gave a compassionate and unifying speech. The kind of speech that presidents should make in the midst of a tragedy.
It was a bipartisan speech and he recalled efforts by Republican presidents who acted to heal the nation. He cited George H.W. Bush who renounced his membership in the National Rifle Association and George W. Bush who visited a mosque after 9/11.
He called them “presidents who chose to fight for the best of what American character is all about. There is deafening silence now…our president has aligned himself with the darkest forces and it makes winning the battle for the soul of our nation that much tougher.”
For all his faults, Biden has two great strengths. He has plenty of experience, which is important but not valued in this cycle. He also exudes empathy, which is in great demand because so many Americans are in such great pain.
The nation is so polarized and, in such anguish, that Biden's ability to relate to people is a great asset. Many Americans value Biden as the only candidate in the race who has the personal feel to comfort Americans and bring them together again.
People will need an empathetic president because it will take years to heal the divisions facing the United States after four years of Trump. A Consoler in Chief like Biden is the perfect antidote to a Divider in Chief like Trump. After tragedies like the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, Biden can go on national TV and begin the healing process; something Trump can't or won't do.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.