The president’s actions in recent days also struck a nerve with his former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who excoriated Trump in a rare statement on Wednesday for deliberately trying “to divide us.” The retired four-star general resigned from the Trump administration in Feb. 2018 after clashing with the president over his attempt to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” said Mattis, who is widely revered in military circles. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Trump’s inner circle is still debating whether a base-only strategy for the remainder of the election is a prudent approach, particularly as he struggles with suburban women and college-educated voters, many of whom turned away from the GOP in the 2018 midterm elections and have shown little desire to return to the party of Trump in recent polling.
Kushner has urged Trump to balance his law-and-order message with displays of empathy while responding to protests and the national conversation about systemic racism — hoping his father-in-law can still salvage his campaign’s broader effort to peel off a slice of black voters in November. Others warned Trump to tread carefully with his language after a particularly problematic tweet in which he quoted 1960s-era Miami police chief Walter Headley, an advocate of harsh policing in black communities, according to a Trump campaign official familiar with the matter. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote on Twitter last Thursday.
Still, there are some who think the president’s renewed focus on his base — and the tactics he’s employed to make supporters feel connected to him — is a much-needed course correction after months of trying to court voters with an anti-socialism message that has proved more difficult to pin to Biden than other Democratic candidates.
One former administration official suggested that Trump should test an array of messages — about stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic, rioters and looters and “Democratic governors’ blatant hostility toward religious Americans” — until he finds one that sticks with his base, much like the “no collusion, no obstruction” slogan Trump flooded campaign rallies and advertisements with during the special counsel investigation.
It was that approach that Trump appeared to embrace in an interview with his former press secretary late Wednesday. Asked whether Americans need their president to provide comfort in this moment of chaos, Trump instead replied, “Right now, I think the nation needs law and order.”