What set off the bomber?
It's too soon to know with assurance the motive of whoever sent the bombs. Was it someone in a MAGA hat? An Antifa hood? A tinfoil chapeau?
What is clear: The would-be recipients and destinations for the packages had something in common. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, liberal megadonor George Soros, former CIA Director John Brennan, Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, California Rep. Maxine Waters and CNN have all been in the spoken and tweeted crosshairs of President Donald Trump and his most fervent cheerleaders.
By early Thursday Vice President Joe Biden and film mogul Robert DeNiro were added to the list of recipients.
With Republicans of late trying to sell a message about Democratic-allied "leftist mobs" threatening America, Trump left his crowd-riling rally voice in a lock box Wednesday afternoon. Absent, for the moment, was the Trump who just last week merrily saluted a Republican congressman in Montana for body-slamming a reporter, who egged on supporters to beat up protesters, who beams when his fans chant, "Lock her up."
Speaking solemnly from the White House, Trump vowed to "bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice" and said, "In these times, we have to unify." The president declared that "acts or threats of political violence have no place in the United States." (Click here for video)
Democrats discerned a disconnect. "Time and time again, the President has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions," said a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republicans condemned the bomb plot.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), gravely wounded last year in a gunman's attack on a GOP lawmakers' baseball practice, said, "These attempted attacks . . . are acts of pure terror." Republicans, for the most part, didn't blame Trump's behavior, but Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was present when Scalise was shot, told CNN outside the network's evacuated New York offices: "Words matter. . . . If he [Trump] were to take a more civil tone, it would make a difference.”
Further to the right, there were reflex insinuations of a "false flag" operation to make Trump look bad. Rush Limbaugh told radio listeners a "Democratic operative" was likelier than a Republican to have sent the devices. For more on the bombs, see the story by Newsday staff in New York and Washington.
Behind 'enemy' lines
To stay their hero, Trump makes sure his followers see villains — "Crooked Hillary," "Bad (or sick)" Obama, "loudmouth" Brennan, "Low IQ" Waters; He accused Soros, portrayed as a sinister figure in a vast assortment of right-wing conspiracies, of paying protesters who swarmed Capitol Hill against his last Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
But Trump saves his vilest vitriol for "Fake News" CNN, counting it along with other disfavored news outlets as an "enemy of the American people." He has tweeted social media videos depicting him beating up figures with the CNN logo.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a statement Wednesday.
Hours after the CNN bomb was discovered, Trump's 2020 campaign sent out a fundraising email that read, “It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people.” Campaign manager Brad Parscale apologized, saying the email "unfortunately was a preprogrammed, automated message that was not caught before the news broke."
Do what I say, not what I said
Trump dialed it down at his Wisconsin rally Wednesday night and congratulated himself for doing so: "By the way, do you see how nice I'm behaving?"
He opened his speech with an appeal for civility and restraint — from others.
"Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating opponents as being morally defective," said Trump, who has called Democrats "evil," among other attributes.
He omitted his usual routine of inciting the crowds against reporters covering the rally, but chided the news media, saying it "has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories."
The boogeyman who wasn't there
Trump's statement deplored the targeting of "current and former high-ranking government officials," but didn't name any of them. A statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mentioned Obama, the Clintons and "other public figures." She left out CNN. Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump added "CNN & others" in their tweets.
None of them mentioned Soros, in whose Westchester mailbox the first bomb was discovered. It seemed odd, because Soros' supposed dark deeds are featured daily by right-wing media and Republican campaigns. Rep. Matt Goetz of Florida, for instance, floated an evidence-free theory that Soros is funding the Central American migrant caravan.
The House Republicans' campaign committee put Soros' name back in play Wednesday with a new ad attacking him as a "radical" and one of the shadowy forces who "owns" Minnesota House candidate Dan Feehan, The Daily Beast reported.
Janison: Birth of a nationalist
Trump's new embrace of the word "nationalist" has stirred alarm from critics who see it as a signifier of an authoritarian, anti-democratic, even fascist ideology.
That's an overreaction, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The term for many years has been synonymous with "patriot" on both the right and left. Whether his other words and slogans — "drain the swamp," "America first," "MAGA," "lock her up"— match his real-life conduct, values or actions lends itself to a different discussion.
Is amnesia a pre-existing condition?
With Republicans feeling vulnerable on health care issues, Trump tried to tweet to their rescue: "Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican," he wrote.
To buy that requires counting on voters to have both long-term and short-term memory loss. The Trump administration won't defend that Obamacare protection against a Republican-led lawsuit from 20 states trying to eliminate it. New rules announced by the Department of Health and Services Monday gives states new leeway to undermine it.
What else is happening:
- A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds voters are angry, but not about the same things. For Republicans, the top flashpoints are illegal immigration and a potential impeachment of Trump. For Democrats, it was child separations at the border and Russian election interference.
- Democrats see their chances of winning a Senate majority as slim to none and expect House control to be decided by a handful of seats, The Associated Press reports.
- While House Republicans are focused on trying to hang on, and some are preparing for how they would assert themselves if they end up in the minority to resist a Democratic onslaught using newfound powers against Trump, CNN reports.
- White House officials still worry about Trump's habit of talking to friends on his unsecured iPhone because intelligence reports indicate Chinese spies are often listening, The New York Times reports. They can only hope he isn't discussing classified information.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren's percentage of Native American ancestry is dwarfed by the percentages of voters who changed their opinion of the potential 2020 contender after she disclosed DNA test results. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found 16% view her more favorably and 24% less favorably.
- Anthony Scaramucci's latest riff on Trump and truth: He "should probably dial down the lying," the former White House communications director told CNN. He doesn't "need to" because he's "doing a great job for the country."