WASHINGTON - In the wake of the recent mass shooting tragedies in Texas and Ohio, the Democrats running for president have ramped up their criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump and what they say is his divisive rhetoric.
Speaking in Iowa Thursday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren became the latest Democratic contender to go after the president.
“He has given aid and comfort to white supremacists,” Warren told The New York Times during a campaign visit to western Iowa. “He has done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country.”
The day before in Burlington, Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden lashed out at Trump and accused him of fanning the flames of white supremacy.
“Trump readily, eagerly, attacks Islamic terrorism but can barely bring himself to use the words ‘white supremacy,’” Biden told supporters. “And even when he says it, he does not appear to believe it. He seems more concerned about losing their votes than beating back this hateful ideology.”
Campaigning in California earlier in the week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also criticized the president for rhetoric that Sanders said has divided the country.
“He is somebody who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a xenophobe, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric, I believe, creates a climate in which violence can take place.”
California Senator Kamala Harris told reporters in Las Vegas that the president has often chosen words “that have been about selling hate and division among us.”
Gun control focus
The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have unleashed new demands for action on gun control from Democratic White House contenders as well as several members of Congress.
In South Carolina, Democratic presidential contender and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker issued a fresh call for banning assault weapons.
“We must act to prevent people who should not have guns from getting them,” Booker told a crowd at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is the same church where a white supremacist gunman killed nine black parishioners in 2015.
The intensifying accusations that the president is fomenting racist and white supremacist views came at the same time that President Trump sought to console victims during a visit to El Paso and Ohio on Wednesday.
As he left the White House, Trump pushed back at his Democratic rivals.
“So my critics are political people. They are trying to make points. In many cases, they are running for president and are very low in the polls.”
The president’s visits drew protesters in both cities, prompting a defense of his approach by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“He is speaking to the nation about all of this and trying to unify and heal, taking concrete steps. And his political opponents are talking about him,” she said.
Some analysts noted that the president’s long record of divisive and provocative comments appear to be coming back to haunt him.
“Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the problem,” said Darrell West, vice president of government studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The country is very divided, certainly along issues of race and immigration, and when he makes all the complaints that he does about immigrants, there are people who are going out and acting on it.”
All about Trump
The controversy over Trump’s rhetoric and its impact reinforced the notion that he continues to be a driving force in the Democratic presidential primary race.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll found Biden leading the Democratic field with 32% support, followed by Warren at 21%, Sanders at 14% and Harris at 7%.
Warren has been surging after two rounds of Democratic debates, the latest of which took place last month. But Biden retained his lead in large part because many Democrats see him as the strongest candidate to take on Trump next year.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 49% of Democrats said Biden had the best chance of beating Trump, while 12% said Sanders, 9% picked Warren and 6% chose Harris.
A new Monmouth University poll Thursday found Biden leading in the key early voting state of Iowa with Warren surging into second place. Biden leads in the Iowa poll with 28% followed by Warren with 19, Harris at 11, Sanders at 9 and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 8%. Four months ago in the same Iowa poll, Warren had 7% support while Sanders was at 16%.
The Iowa caucuses will officially launch the primary voting season in February.
Biden has made defeating Trump his central focus. But Sanders and Warren argue it is more important to bring sweeping change to the economy and government in order to achieve lasting reform.
So while Trump remains a central issue in the campaign, some contenders want to focus on their policy agenda instead, according to political analyst Vanessa Beasley of Vanderbilt University.
“I think what is striking about this year is that the ‘elephant in the room’ truly is President Trump,” she said. “So to the extent that some of them want to talk about President Trump a lot and some of them don’t want to talk about him at all, that is what makes this year a little bit different.”
The next major test in the Democratic primary race comes in mid-September when those contenders who qualify will gather in Houston, Texas, for a third debate.
So far, nine Democrats have qualified including Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.