President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on a Somali-born congresswoman Friday while reversing his previous criticisms of a North Carolina crowd who chanted "send her back," defending them as "patriots" while again questioning the loyalty of four Democratic lawmakers of color.
In a week that has been full of hostile exchanges over race and love of country on both sides, Trump returned to a pattern that has become familiar during controversies of his own making: Ignite a firestorm, backtrack from it, but then double down on his original, inflammatory position.
"You know what I'm unhappy with?" Trump answered when reporters at the White House asked if he was unhappy with the Wednesday night crowd. "Those people in North Carolina, that stadium was packed. It was a record crowd. And I could have filled it 10 times, as you know. Those are incredible people. They are incredible patriots. But I'm unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, 'I'm going to be the president's nightmare.'"
It was another dizzying twist in a saga sparked by the president's tweets about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who moved from Somalia as a child, and her colleagues Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The moment took an ugly turn at the rally when the crowd's "send her back" shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar, though the next day he claimed he did not approve of the chant and tried to stop it.
But on Friday, he made clear he was not disavowing the chant and again laced into Omar, the target of the chant.
"You can't talk that way about our country. Not when I'm president," Trump said. "These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country."
He also tweeted that it was "amazing how the Fake News Media became 'crazed' over the chant 'send her back' by a packed Arena (a record) crowd in the Great State of North Carolina, but is totally calm & accepting of the most vile and disgusting statements made by the three Radical Left Congresswomen."
Omar was defiant Thursday, telling reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a "fascist" and casting the confrontation as a fight over "what this country truly should be."
"We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened," she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington.