Since it seems to cost President Donald Trump nothing to occasionally alienate a prominent veteran or bereaved family, this latest controversy over soldiers killed in action probably will cause no harm in any way that matters to him.
This is true even if many Americans would say they’d like their top elected official to show decency and taste in sensitive situations.
After attacking Sen. John McCain over his past prisoner-of-war status by saying “I like people who weren’t captured,” candidate Trump rolled on to the Republican presidential nomination that McCain won eight years earlier.
After attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, a Muslim immigrant and U.S. Army captain who died in the Iraq War, Trump was elected president.
Fans can say, of course, that Trump in those cases was just “counterpunching.”
McCain had criticized Trump’s remarks about Mexicans arriving illegally; Khan’s father criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban at the Democratic National Convention.
This week’s drama is a little different, given some of its most cringeworthy details.
Asked about his public silence regarding servicemen killed in Niger, Trump said he would call families and write personal letters. Then he suggested his predecessor Barack Obama and other presidents didn’t do so. He had nothing to support the claim and backtracked a bit.
On the defensive, Trump blurted out the suggestion that reporters ask his chief of staff, John Kelly, whether Obama had called Kelly when Kelly’s son was killed in action in Afghanistan.
Turns out Kelly and his wife were listed as attending a 2011 Memorial Day breakfast with Obama for Gold Star families. Kelly, it seems, has tried to keep the matter as private as possible, but Trump saw fit to bring it up impromptu.
The White House spokesman said Obama didn’t call Kelly.
But The Associated Press soon identified soldiers killed on Trump’s watch whose families said he never called.
The president made it all the more cringeworthy by reportedly telling the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson that her spouse “knew what he signed up for” while expressing condolences.
This is according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla,), who was with Myeshia Johnson during the phone call. Trump tweeted that the quote was totally fabricated and said he has proof. As usual, he released none.
Sgt. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post: “He did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
But if past is prologue, the president is shielded from fallout.
Consider it an object lesson for cynical political consultants. What sometimes looks like a costly error by the client might cost nothing at all — depending on the circumstances and, of course, the client.