Trump’s Puerto Rico response tests the limits of his fondness for grudges – Politico
President Donald Trump may not have a cohesive foreign policy doctrine, or any clear ideological underpinning for his domestic agenda.
But he has a firm personal outlook on life that has driven him as a businessman, a candidate and now as president â one he outlined succinctly at an early campaign stop in Dubuque, Iowa, last year. âWhen people treat me unfairly,â he warned, âI donât let them forget it.â
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Until this weekend, when Trump spent two days engaging in a personal feud with the female mayor of San Juan, Trumpâs âgrudge presidencyâ had not been tested by a humanitarian crisis in which lives were being lost in real time â and where there was no natural constituency for his explosion of grievances.
âWe have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico,â the president tweeted on Sunday morning, from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. âOutside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates, people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military.â
The message followed a series of tweets on Saturday lashing out at Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, accusing her of âsuch poor leadership abilityâ in not getting people on the ground to help.
It was a direct response to her emotional press conference Friday night, in which she begged the president for more help. âWe are dying here,â Cruz said, slamming down two thick binders of documentation that San Juan had provided to FEMA to obtain help.
In another world, Cruzâs frustration with the layers of bureaucracy standing between her wiped-out city and food and water delivery might have been in line with Trumpâs own interest in cutting regulations and red tape.
The props she used were similar to charts Trump has wielded at press conferences to demonstrate how obtuse the countryâs permitting and regulatory process can be. But Cruzâs plea was interpreted by Trump as a personal insult.
âI am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge, that is up to the task of saving lives,â she said. âIf anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.â
On Twitter, Trump noted that Cruz had been âvery complimentaryâ to him in the past. âThey want everything to be done for them,â he complained, âwhen it should be a community effort.â
To longtime Trump watchers, Trumpâs personal reaction to Cruz was par for the course. Last weekend, he revoked an invitation for NBA star Stephen Curry to visit the White House with his team after Curry slighted him by saying he did not want them to make the trip.
From the perch of the presidency, he has gone after morning show hosts like Mika Brzezinski, lawmakers from his own party, like Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, members of his own Cabinetâ most notably Attorney General Jeff Sessions â and even taken on the NFL.
And it was in line with how he has reacted to individuals who criticize him personally for years.
âThis stretches back to Trumpâs earliest days in the New York media ecosystem,â said Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a frequent Trump critic. âHeâs a creature of the New York Post Page Six culture, and so beefs, grudges, feuds â either real or contrived â came to be associated in his mind with exposure and success. Sadly now, of course, heâs the commander-in-chief of the greatest nation on earth.â
This time, White House officials also joined in, defending Trumpâs feud with the mayor.
âMy understanding is that as of yesterday, she had not even been to the FEMA operation center in her own city,â Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN Sunday morning, referring to Cruz. âIt is unfortunate that the San Juan mayor wants to sort of go against the grain. Weâd love to have her on the team as we all pull in the same direction.â
White House communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp posted on Twitter a Daily Caller interview with another Puerto Rican mayor, who accused Cruz of not participating in meetings with FEMA. âPuerto Rican mayors support federal response & POTUS leadership & humanitarian efforts,â she posted on Twitter. âLiberal Media wonât cover other side.â
Cabinet secretaries were dispatched to the Sunday shows to explain, once again, why there was nothing surprising about Trumpâs unusual behavior. âWhen the president gets attacked, he attacks back,â Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin explained Sunday on âMeet the Press.â âI think the mayorâs comments were unfair given what the federal government has done.â
Behind the scenes, the White House press office churned out âreadoutsâ of Trumpâs calls with other Puerto Rican officials â including a former governor, now working as a lobbyist in Washington, who âthanked the president for his leadership and commitment to the people of Puerto Rico.â
Trump allies shrugged off the weekend back-and-forth. “Donald Trump is never going to attend a sensitivity class,â said Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend. âI think everyone has figured that one out. I think heâs done a pretty good job handling this storm so far.â
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Trump saw his response as a political opportunity to demonstrate empathy and get credit for delivering results. On Saturday, he tweeted that he and Melania Trump would be visiting Puerto Rico this week, but otherwise, he was old-school Trump.
âThis lack of empathy, of being able to put yourself in someone elseâs shoes during the worst, catastrophe the island has seen â the fact that this is what heâs focusing on while people are still not being communicated with, makes me ill,â said Democrat Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the New York City Council, and a native of Puerto Rico.
Mark-Viverito visited San Juan last weekend as part of a group of 25 representatives from New York City, she said, defending Cruzâs criticisms of the government response so far.
âI was there last weekend, and I didnât see any FEMA representation on the ground,â she said. âI went knocking on doors with the mayor â people were not waiting for the government, they were getting in their bulldozers and clearing paths. I didnât witness any sort of federal representation.â