Has President Donald Trump’s White House moved past the horror that still grips Las Vegas in the wake of the bloody Oct. 1 mass shooting that left 58 dead and 546 wounded?
Trump frequently mentions the shooting during speeches and on camera. On Friday, he brought up the “the horrific mass murder” when he addressed the Values Voter Summit in Washington. Trump also hailed Brady Cook, the Las Vegas police officer who had been on the force for two days when he was wounded in the hail of bullets.
But this year, Trump has had to contend with disaster after catastrophe – everything short of a plague of locusts — thanks to Mother Nature in all her nastiness.
Before Las Vegas, Trump dealt with hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. He started out a hero in Texas, then coasted into infamy after back-to-back storms ravaged Puerto Rico. Then there was his Twitter war with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. It’s hard for Trump to take his eyes off a Twitter challenge.
Almost immediately after the Las Vegas shooting, California grabbed the news spotlight as a series of blazes torched homes, farms and forests as well as Californians who could not escape the inferno. The conflagrations threaten to drive the Golden State’s body count beyond the awful number of 58.
There are other distractions as well. There’s the Trump Show, running daily on Twitter, which keeps all of America guessing what the president will do next.
And there are the important real-life policy changes: Trump’s condemnation of the Iran nuclear agreement and moves to pull back some funding for President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, for example, with their potential to rearrange the political landscape.
Then there are the politics of the tragedy. Like many Americans, Trump prefers to focus on incidents that could have been prevented if only his politics had prevailed.
Trump has generally exhibited more gusto in his responses when he could fault radical Islamic terrorism — and political correctness that fails to call out extremist views — as contributors to violence.
After two terrorists killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015, Trump readily assigned blame.
“That looks like another Islamic disaster,” he said.
Later, after a terrorist shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump reiterated his prescription, a temporary ban on travel by individuals from countries with a history of terrorism, also known as the “Muslim ban.”
“The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump said.
Mass shootings embolden gun control advocates to demand limits on firearms, without which such crimes could not occur.
But Trump is a supporter of the Second Amendment. He is left muttering to reporters that the shooter was “a very sick man. He was a very demented person.”
You can believe that restrictions on gun ownership don’t really make the country safer, as many Americans do, but embracing bitter reality is not emotionally satisfying.
No showman’s moment
Trump prefers to stay away from issues for which he does not have an easy, ready solution.
The president avoided questions about gun control and restrictions on the bump stocks used by the shooter. It was not the time for politics, he said.
As the country moves on from a story that will haunt Nevadans for some time, a lifetime even, Trump will have to signal whether he is sticking with his opposition to further gun restrictions. Since he won election, Trump generally has held fast to positions dear to his core voters.
If Trump moves against bump stocks administratively, the NRA will have his back, but that course will afford him no showman’s moment.
There is no play available that would give Trump both the opportunity to be true to his voter base and a platform to challenge the status quo.
Trump prefers disasters that allow him to come out on top. So on Wednesday, he announced a Department of Justice grant for Nevada law enforcement in a tweet: “Happy to announce we are awarding $1M to Las Vegas – in order to help local law enforcement working OT to respond to last Sunday’s tragedy.”
Happy? It was a tone-deaf expression considering the casualties. But it gave Trump a chance to play the benefactor.
Contact Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.