President Trump Turns Up The Volume On Political Attacks

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 25, 2017 9:45 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump has turned up the volume in some of his political attacks. It comes in the wake of the strong bipartisan criticism he faced after his reaction to the white nationalist march in Charlottesville. He's hit his usual targets - the media, Democrats, the Washington swamp. But increasingly, he has gone after members of his own party. NPR's Don Gonyea went to South Carolina to see how these tensions are playing out at the community level.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It was Chamber of Commerce night at the minor league ballpark in Greenville. The local team, the Greenville Drive, was hosting the Columbia Fireflies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let me hear it.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Take me out to the ball...

GONYEA: Donald Trump racked up a huge margin of victory here and in the surrounding counties. The business community was part of that. Now they're watching the president and wondering what all of the political fights will mean for issues important to them - rewriting the tax code, infrastructure, trade. David Pence owns an IT company. He voted for and supports Trump, and says he still sees a president trying to do big things.

DAVID PENCE: Yeah, he's trying to stop businesses from leaving because they are leaving in droves. I think he's trying to fix the big stuff.

GONYEA: Here's what else he thinks. He'd like the president to tone it down and ease up on the tweets, and even call a truce with the media. Lately, especially after Charlottesville, even some Republicans have called Trump out. South Carolina GOP Senator Tim Scott said Trump's moral authority is compromised. David Pence was a bit exasperated when asked about that.

PENCE: I don't think Trump's had a lot of moral authority ever, right? I mean, there's been videos of him getting off that bus and saying the things that he said. You know, he's already said, I'm not a perfect guy or whatever. I mean, OK. So I'm past that. I mean, it's not that it's OK, by the way. But I don't know why we have to make a big deal out of it. I think we need to accept people's flaws and faults and move on.

GONYEA: But he also insists that the media haven't given Trump a fair shake. He believes they were out to get Trump from the beginning. Also at the ballpark that night was Bridget Morris, who owns a health and nutrition business.

BRIDGET MORRIS: Trump is very in your face. He's a decision maker. However, he does tend to be a little reactionary at times.

GONYEA: She voted for Trump and says he's doing a pretty good job so far. But she also says his quickness to lash out is hurting chances of getting legislation passed.

MORRIS: I can respect a man with strong opinions and strong leadership. However, I do think there has been some damage from some of his - impulsiveness is what I'll call it.

GONYEA: Now a 100-plus-mile drive to Columbia and another business event at a hotel not far from the state capitol building.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I want to welcome everybody to the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce's Washington night.

GONYEA: Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham joined a panel discussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: So you want to know what's going to happen in Congress? Yeah, me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Graham is one of those Republicans who's often been a Trump target. But after the violence of Charlottesville, he was among those saying Trump fell short of what a president needed to do.

GRAHAM: I think the president missed an opportunity. I'm not saying he's a racist, but his words are being received in that community as supportive. The president needs to be more clear. It's up to him as president to bring us together. I hope he can, and I hope he will.

GONYEA: But the president has relished the fight with critics. He has a history of attacking Senator Graham and also this week has gone after repeat targets GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Here's Graham again.

GRAHAM: There's two ways to engage Congress, I guess - try to beat everybody up to get them to do what you want or try to find a win-win solution. My advice, for whatever it's worth, is that you're going to need us working as a team. The formula he's using has been tried before, and it's not very successful. And he has a lot of personal skills. He is a deal maker. There's a side to Donald Trump that's very charming. And I would try that side.

GONYEA: But the president shows no sign of exhausting his combativeness - not even close. Nor has he given Graham or anyone else reason to think he's ready to take advice on how to make a deal. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbia, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.