White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Team Trump tries to defend his ugly comments about deceased rep

Updated

On the night of his impeachment, Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan, where he whined for a while about Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) standing against him, despite his willingness to give her husband, the late Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) a proper memorial service.

As the president told his supporters, “She calls me up: ‘It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down. He’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ … Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe.”

The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, an MSNBC contributor, noted, “You just don’t meet too many people in life who consciously pick fights with widows by suggesting their husband is in hell.”

Yesterday, the White House tried to mount a defense.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday that she had not spoken to Trump about his Dingell comments, adding that she is “very, very sorry for” the congresswoman’s “loss and I would thank her and I would thank her late husband for all of the service to our country.”

“He was at a political rally,” she said when pressed on Trump’s remarks. “He has been under attack and under impeachment attack for the last few months and then just under attack politically for the last two-and-a-half years. I think as we all know, the president is a counter-puncher. It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd and he was just riffing on some of the things that have happened the past few days.”

Around the same time, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley appeared on Fox and complained, “No matter what the president says, people are going to parse it apart, try and tear it apart, and focus on the most negative aspects of it.”

What a good point. Just once, it’d be nice if political observers focused on the positive aspects of Trump suggesting a celebrated, deceased public servant might be in hell.

All joking aside, I’m not surprised the White House is trying to defend the president’s cruelty, though I’m struck by how woeful Team Trump’s talking points are.

“He was at a political rally”? That’s true, though plenty of American politicians, including many presidents, have appeared at countless political rallies without reaching Trump’s depths.

“He has been under attack”? That’s true, though his own corruption led to those attacks. For that matter, if political attacks cause Trump to lose his composure and sense of decency, perhaps he shouldn’t have pursued the presidency.

“The president is a counter-puncher”? Maybe so, but John Dingell, who was 92 at the time of his passing, has been dead since February. Trump finds it necessary to “counter-punch” against someone who’s been gone for nearly a year?

“He was just riffing?” This might work for a stand-up comedian who said something dumb in a club, but it’s tougher to take seriously for a man who’s been the leader of a global superpower for nearly three years.

Most congressional Republicans were silent on the subject yesterday, but a handful of GOP lawmakers said the president should apologize. – if not for decency’s sake, then for Trump’s own self-interest. In Michigan, a key 2020 battleground, John Dingell is widely seen as a heroic figure whose memory commands respect. One senior GOP congressman told a Fox News reporter, in reference to the president, “He could lose Michigan alone on this one.”

The White House pitiful excuses yesterday suggest there will be no apology.

* Postscript: It’s not the most important detail, but according to Debbie Dingell, she did not, as Trump claimed, call the president. He called her.