After receiving sharp criticism for his rhetoric about Hurricane Harvey during a short visit to Texas on Tuesday, President Trump offered a fresh message on Wednesday: I care.
In short remarks ahead of a speech promoting tax reform, the president tried to correct course, steering away from the rah-rah character of his tour in Texas and radiating more sympathy.
“In difficult times such as these we see the true character of the American people: Their strength, their love, and their resolve,” he said. “We see friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, and stranger helping stranger. Together, we will endure and we will overcome. To those affected by this storm, we are praying for you and we are with you every step of the way.”
That was a departure from his tone in Texas. During stops in the state, he focused on inspirational praise for the indomitable American spirit and wonderment at size—both the size of storm, and in a strange moment, the size of the audience there to greet him. (“What a crowd, what a turnout.”) It was left to Governor Greg Abbott to insist that Trump was “heartbroken.”
As I wrote on Tuesday, presidents tend to respond to disasters with a mix of inspiration and consolation. Trump is good at celebrating resilience, but sympathy is not a mode that seems to come to him naturally, and there are few instances of him expressing it publicly during his political career. Also missing from his remarks was any comment on the deaths of civilians or first responders during the storm, an unusual omission.