US President Donald Trump has brushed aside charges that his angry, divisive rhetoric against opponents is to blame for series of violent incidents to hit the United States.
In Pittsburgh, a lone gunman on Saturday killed 11 Jews while praying at a synagogue, marking the worst anti-Jewish crime in American history.
Only a few days before, at least 13 homemade bombs were sent by mail to former US presidents and key Democratic Party leaders by a Trump supporter in Florida.
Only a few days before the crucial mid-term Congress elections on 6 November, Trump insisted on denial, claiming that continued questions about his divisive rhetoric were partisan attacks launched by his political opponents.
Contrary to the advice of advisers, Trump insisted Tuesday to visit Pittsburgh to offer his condolences to the victims of the anti-Jewish attack. The trip came amid a last-minute midterm campaign push and forestalled, for now, a planned address on immigration.
Trump expressed concern his midterm messaging could be knocked off-kilter by the attack. Pittsburgh’s mayor called Monday for Trump to wait to visit until after burials, but with an 11-rally itinerary set for the end of the week, there was little flexibility in the US president’s schedule.
In the wake of the slaying at the Pittsburgh synagogue, Trump demonstrated more grievance than grief. Those grievances are rooted in how he believes he is being mistreated by the media.
For days, he has complained openly to allies and aides that he doesn’t believe he was given sufficient credit for his early comments denouncing the shooting.
Those comments were quickly overtaken by inflammatory tweets from the president. Trump chose to use his bully pulpit Monday to attack the media.
“There is great anger in our country caused in part by inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting of the news,” Trump tweeted, calling the media “the true enemy of the people”.
Trump also believes the Florida pipe bomber is slowing Republican momentum in the final week of the midterm campaign. That is one of the reasons, aides said, he is making an unprecedented investment for a sitting president: eleven rallies in six days.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s a midterm election or not, the president’s going to fight back,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “The president is going to defend himself,” she added.
Despite controversy over the role the president’s rhetoric played in fuelling the recent wave of domestic violence, many Republican candidates running sought Trump’s help in boosting their chances to either maintain their seat or defeat Democratic opponents.
US Senator Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker both ran against Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and had been campaigning for re-election largely independent of the president.
But with polls showing their races tight ahead of the 6 November elections, each walked onto a stage with Trump last week at separate rallies in Texas and Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, Trump told the boisterous crowd that
Walker could be “nasty” during the 2016 presidential campaign but now was a “great friend”. Earlier in the week Trump told Texans that Cruz, who he once derided as “Lyin’ Ted,” was now “Beautiful Ted”.
When election season began, many Republican candidates tried to avoid making the vote a referendum on the president, who remains unpopular with a majority of Americans. Instead, they trumpeted the strong US economy and tax cuts passed by Congress last year. But those issues did not resonate with voters.
Faced with the prospect of losing control of the US House of Representatives and a tough Senate battle, Republicans have turned for help to Trump.
The party is also adopting his blistering rhetoric on matters such as immigration and national security.
Democrats must win two seats in next week’s elections to assume control of the Senate and 23 to take the House, a more likely outcome.
Immigration is at the heart of Trump’s push to help Republican candidates in the coming days. He has frequently warned that a migrant caravan making its way to the southern border from Central America poses a security threat.
Democratic candidates say endangered Republicans are embracing Trump now because independent voters view last year’s tax bill as a boon for the wealthy and are concerned about issues such as healthcare.
Last month, Democratic chances of taking both the Senate and the House seemed bright. Then Republicans, with Trump leading the way, seized on the battle over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to tag the nominee’s opponents as a “liberal mob”, suggesting that the country would plunge into anarchy if Democrats took control of Congress.
The message was quickly amplified by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and allies such as the Congressional Leadership Fund.
Both groups funded ads accusing Democrats of being closet “radicals” and “socialists”.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, tied to outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, released a wave of radio ads this month targeting Democratic contenders in tight races in states such as Kentucky, Minnesota and Virginia.
“If Democrats take back power, their far-left mobs would hasten dysfunction and grind our economic progress to a halt,” said Matt Gorman, NRCC communications director.
A Republican source familiar with the party’s strategic thinking said the effort was aimed at keeping Republican voters from crossing over to Democratic candidates by appealing to their base social values.
Nevertheless, most independent analysts still predict the Democrats will pick up the 23 seats they need to gain control of the House and would be in a position to derail or stall Trump’s policy agenda.
A Reuters analysis of election-prediction data by the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics showed that while Republican ratings had improved since early September in seven of 65 competitive races, Democrats had gained in 48 races.
But in Ohio and other districts where Republicans have risen in recent opinion polls, their resurgence reflects Trump’s success in charging up his base, helped by his multiple political rallies and this month’s confirmation of Kavanaugh.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Adding fuel to the fire