Yesterday, this proved to be too difficult for Donald Trump.
It was intended to be a day for President Donald Trump to pay his respects to the victims of two deadly mass shootings, thank first responders and serve as consoler-in-chief.
But before he even left the White House on Wednesday for El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the president used his bully pulpit to settle political scores and lash out against slights.
The trouble began around midnight, with a presidential tweet attacking presidential hopeful Beto O’Rouke, El Paso’s former congressman. It continued nine hours later, during a brief Q&A with reporters, in which Trump criticized four Democratic presidential candidates and Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton. Another tweet soon followed, attacking Joe Biden.
After a hospital visit in Dayton, Trump lashed out at Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Whaley, badly mischaracterizing what the Ohio Democrats had said during a press conference.
In El Paso, Trump boasted to reporters about the people he’d met and their “respect for the office of the presidency” – as if the important thing about the day was him and his feelings.
This was followed by more attack tweets, targeting Fox News’ Shep Smith, Joaquin Castro, and Julian Castro.
It was against this background that the White House released a campaign-style video of Trump during his day trip, which was soon followed by another campaign-style video. The point of both clips seemed to be to convey to the public that the president was well received during his local hospital visits. (He also promoted a series of hagiographic photographs, each of which featured him and people smiling around him. The press was told the hospital visit was “not a photo-op.” Reality suggests otherwise.)
It was the latest in a series of presidential leadership tests. It was also Donald Trump’s latest failure.
The whole point of the day was supposed to be about grieving, compassion, and healing. For the president, however, the point of the day was himself, his grievances, and whether he felt satisfied with the level of support he’d received.
In a time of crisis, many hoped Trump would rise to the occasion. He didn’t. By all appearances, he doesn’t know how.
To be sure, this was hardly the first of his failed presidential leadership tests. But many saw the possibility of Trump growing into the office and learning over time how best to handle his responsibilities.
He reminded the nation anew yesterday that this isn’t going to happen. Trump is who he appears to be.