Crises like major weather disasters offer presidents the chance to unify the country and rise above partisan politics. Although a significant amount of aid work is done at the state and local levels, the president still has a major role in coordinating the response and setting the tone for the country.
But for Donald Trump, Hurricane Harvey has been a golden opportunity to promote himself.
“We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” the president said on Tuesday. “We want to do it better than ever before.”
Right now, however, Trump wants to be looked at in a way that makes people say, “I would really like to wear that hat, and I’d be willing to pay that man $40 for it.”
The president has repeatedly worn his own campaign merchandise, which is on sale at his website, to Hurricane Harvey events.
Nearly every chance he gets, Trump brags about the size of his hurricane. He doesn’t have to deal with just any old storm like his predecessors did ― he is confronting a huge storm. The biggest storm you’ve ever seen. A storm that only he could handle. And of course, he wants everyone to know that he and his administration are doing a heckuva job.
Trump also continued to tout how many supporters he has, and the size of his crowds, which he also does at nearly every campaign rally. On Tuesday, he remarked on the crowd size while visiting Corpus Christi, saying, “What a crowd, what a turnout.”
He was at a fire station to meet with local officials about the disaster response. It was not a rally.
Reporters at the event heard no mention from the president of the dead, suffering or displaced Texans, nor did they hear Trump express any sympathy for them, according to a Dallas Morning News reporter.
Trump seems to be taking a certain amount of satisfaction from the attention he and the hurricane are getting on TV, where cable news has nearly non-stop coverage.
On Tuesday, Trump boasted that Federal Emergency Management Director Brock Long “has really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.” And he defended his decision to pardon controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio during Harvey, saying he did so because of how many people were tuning in: “I assumed the ratings would be far higher.”
On the same day that Trump was tweeting about the size of the hurricane, his great rescue operation, NAFTA and his insistence that Mexico will pay for the border wall, former President Barack Obama tweeted a donation link to the Red Cross.
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