Trump seeks cover from Fox News as criticism mounts

President quotes ‘Fox & Friends’ to criticize Obama on mass shootings after warning about political division

President Donald Trump makes a statement on the census with Attorney General William P. Barr in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump makes a statement on the census with Attorney General William P. Barr in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Posted August 6, 2019 at 9:16am

ANALYSIS | One day after he warned the country about political division and the “perils” of social media, President Donald Trump contradicted himself with a series of tweets criticizing his predecessor and a perceived big-tech nuisance. And he again turned to his favorite cable network for an assist.

The president addressed the country Monday morning in a speech meant to console the families of the victims of two deadly weekend mass murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Gunmen opened fire in a WalMart in the former and an entertainment district in the latter. The violence has prompted calls for Trump to call on Congress to interrupt its August recess to send him gun-control legislation.

But Trump did not call for any legislative action that would get a bill on his desk to make it harder for would-be mass shooters to buy firearms. He did, however, denounce white supremacy amid criticism about his rhetoric about an “invasion” of the U.S. by Central and South American migrants — something echoed in an online manifesto penned by the El Paso shooting suspect.

Here was Trump during those Monday remarks: “We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people. Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided. We must seek real, bipartisan solutions. We have to do that in a bipartisan manner. That will truly make America safer and better for all.”

[Trump opts against call for gun-control bill after Dayton and El Paso shootings]

Speaking under a portrait of George Washington, Trump also called on officials to “shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet, and stop mass murders before they start.”

Without a hint of irony in his voice, the president who has pushed racist rhetoric in his tweets added this: “The Internet, likewise, is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution, and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored, and they will not be ignored.”

But by Tuesday morning, Trump was back to playing his brand of aggressive defense.

When the 45th chief executive senses political trouble, he often pivots to the issue that appears to resonate most with his conservative base: immigration. As he continues to be criticized by Democratic lawmakers, pro-migrant advocates and Democratic officials in Dayton and El Paso, he was watching cable television as he mounted his defense.

Once again, Trump made clear just how big of a role Fox News and its right-leaning programming influences his messaging and decision-making.

He started Tuesday morning by posting a quote he attributed to Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade on its “Fox & Friends” morning show. “President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control,” Kilmeade said, adding mass murders using guns were occurring on U.S. soil before then-businessman and reality television star Trump considered a White House bid.

Trump — who in May told a rally crowd in Panama City Beach, Fla., that one solution to what he calls an influx of undocumented Latino migrants would be to “shoot them” — then found an ally in one of Kilmeade’s morning cohosts, Ainsley Earhardt.

He posted a quote from her saying his critics and Democrats opponents merely want to “push that racist narrative” because the 2020 election is “around the corner.”

The president added a line straight out of one of his political rallies: “And I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!” But Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, called Trump’s contention he is not racist “bologna” during a CNN interview Tuesday morning. Other Democrats have echoed that sentiment.

But his Fox-fueled “executive time” tweet storm was only beginning.

[8chan draws top Republican’s ire following El Paso massacre]

When he is riding out a period of particularly negative media coverage, Trump often searches for new enemies to pan on Twitter as he tries to lure news outlets to a new narrative. On Tuesday, it was Google — with an assist from Fox News.

Trump quoted evening personality Lou Dobbs, who ran a segment alleging the tech giant tried to boost Hillary Clinton’s 2016 general campaign and is plotting against Trump’s reelection bid.

He ended that thread with a warning to the company he and other conservatives say is censoring and otherwise undercutting conservative politicians and thought-shapers: “We are watching Google very closely!”

The president and his surrogates often describe themselves and all conservatives as victims who are under attack by everyone from undocumented migrants to the media to Democratic lawmakers to large tech firms to other — including friendly — governments.

He is scheduled to hold another campaign rally on Aug. 16 in New Hampshire. Fox News likely just handed him some new lines sure to generate big cheers from conservative supporters there.