Trump As 'Consoler-In-Chief'

Aug 7, 2019
Originally published on August 7, 2019 10:12 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump travels to two cities today that are trying to put themselves back together after mass shootings. But in order for the president to console those communities, he may have to change his image a bit. Here's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: This could be an awkward visit for President Trump. Elected officials in both cities have been lukewarm about welcoming him. Dee Margo, the Republican mayor of El Paso, described it as his obligation.

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DEE MARGO: I want to clarify for the political spin that this is the office of the mayor of El Paso, in an official capacity, welcoming the office of the president of the United States, which I consider as my formal duty.

ORDOÑEZ: But formal duty or not, not everyone in the community wants the president there, including Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso. Here she is on MSNBC.

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VERONICA ESCOBAR: He is not welcome here. He should not come here while we are in mourning.

ORDOÑEZ: Comforting Americans is a skill some presidents do better than others. President Trump has often struggled in his role as consoler in chief. After a woman was killed during a rally involving white supremacists in Charlottesville, the president said there were, quote, "fine people on both sides." During a visit with hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, he was criticized for being insensitive when he threw rolls of paper towels at them.

Trump likes to project an image of toughness and strength, but that bravado also makes it harder to appear sympathetic. He conceded in an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2016 that he is not an emotional person.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I like to get things done. I don't - you know, I'm not a big crier. And I'm, you know, not somebody that goes around crying a lot.

ORDOÑEZ: It's hard to imagine President Trump breaking out in song, as President Obama did during a funeral for the pastor killed in a massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C.

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BARACK OBAMA: (Singing) Amazing grace...

(CHEERING)

ORDOÑEZ: Joshua DuBois was a former aide to Obama who advised him during crises. DuBois said Trump does not need to sing or cry, but he should leave the scripts in Washington and speak from the heart.

JOSHUA DUBOIS: President Obama realized that family and the families of those who are mourning needed to know that there was a grace that would envelop them and carry them through this difficult time. Now, in the case of El Paso, I think what folks need to know is that their loved ones did not die in vain.

ORDOÑEZ: White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham says the president is working to unify people and criticize some lawmakers who weren't trying to do the same. Those close to Trump acknowledge that he has a different emotional range, but his feelings are still heartfelt. After the Parkland shootings in Florida, Trump sat down with students and parents of victims and had a raw and difficult conversation.

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TRUMP: And I just grieve for you. I feel so - it's just - to me, there could be nothing worse than what you've gone through.

ORDOÑEZ: At a press conference, the mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley, couldn't answer whether Trump's visit would help, but she said he has influence that no one else does.

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NAN WHALEY: Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart. That's up to the president of the United States.

ORDOÑEZ: And she said the president has a choice about what message he will deliver.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF KARAVELO'S "SNITCHFOOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.