President Trump and Republicans have blamed the media, the internet, video games, mental health, and a lack of prayer in schools for the mass shooting epidemic in the United States, which was brought back into focus over the weekend after shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left at least 31 dead. White nationalism has also been rightly pinpointed by some members of the GOP, but Trump’s name has been left out of their vague denunciations of the hatred fueling these massacres. Democrats haven’t been so vague. Several of the party’s most prominent lawmakers have placed the blame squarely and explicitly at the feet the president, signaling a new willingness to equate domestic terrorism with the president’s rhetoric.
Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman and 2020 presidential candidate, has been among the most vocal among them. The El Paso native flew back to Texas following Saturday’s shooting, and has since been unambiguous in citing Trump’s racism as a driving force behind the attack. “We’ve had a rise in hate crimes in each of the last three years,” he told reporters on Saturday. “During an administration where you have a president who has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. Though Mexican immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than those born here, he has tried to make us afraid of them, to some real effect and consequence.”
Hours before the shooting in El Paso, the suspect posted a manifesto in which lamented an “invasion” of immigrants, language that has been used repeatedly by Trump in describing the situation at the southern border. “He is a racist,” O’Rourke added. “He stokes racism in this country. It does not just offend our sensibilities. It fundamentally changes the character of this country, and it leads to violence.”
President Trump's racism does not just offend our sensibilities; it fundamentally changes the character of this country. And it leads to violence. pic.twitter.com/SbuxGneFnh
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 4, 2019
On Sunday, O’Rourke began to lose his patience with the media, saying “what the fuck” in response to a question about if there’s anything Trump can do to make the situation better. “Connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country,” he continued. “He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence.”
“Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist,” O’Rourke said Monday morning on Morning Joe, expressing frustration that he and other Democrats are still being asked if they believe Trump is racist.
O’Rourke isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate to point a finger the president. “He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said on CNN. “He is responsible because he is failing to condemn white supremacy and see it as it is, which is responsible for such a significant amount of the terrorist attacks. He is responsible because he is president of the United States and has failed to do anything significant to stop the mass availability of weapons to people who intend to do harm.”
Julián Castro said as much on ABC’s This Week, describing the attacks as the “consequences” of Trump’s rhetoric. “As our national leader, you have a role to play in either fanning the flames of division or trying to bring people together,” the 2020 candidate said on Sunday. “This president, very early on, made a clear choice to divide people for his own political benefit, and this is some of the consequences we’re seeing of that.”
Though he did not mention the president by name, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg cited the rhetoric coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as one of the root causes. “We need to acknowledge that this is a problem.” he said Sunday on Fox News. “Right now you see it being echoed by the White House and there is a measure of responsibility that you just can’t get away from.”
On Monday, President Obama, the man who once occupied the office O’Rourke, Booker, Castro, and Buttigieg are now vying for, posted a response that also implicated Trump’s rhetoric, citing a need to “soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiment; leaders who demonize that who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of live, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.”
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 5, 2019
But the most sharply worded criticisms came from those on the ground, namely O’Rourke and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who took over Texas 16th District after O’Rourke stepped down to run for Senate in 2108.
“Words have consequences,” Escobar told Morning Joe on Monday. “The president has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country we are people to be feared, people to be hated. He has done that at his rallies, he has done that through his Twitter. I heard earlier someone mentioned that he may be coming here. I hope that he has the self awareness to understand that we are in pain, and we are in mourning, and we are doing our very best in our typical, beautiful, graceful El Paso way, to continue to be resilient. So I would ask his staff and his team to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this.”
"Words have consequences. The president has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated." —@RepEscobar pic.twitter.com/QH0rEPIeGc
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) August 5, 2019
Not all Democrats have zeroed in on the president. Several have denounced white nationalism without mentioning Trump’s name. Others have chosen to focus on reforming gun laws and the need to elect more Democratic senators in 2020 in order to do so. “If you are pissed off. If you are sad. If you are disgusted. If you feel guilty. If you don’t know what to do. If you want to help. PICK. A. SENATE. RACE,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) agrees. “Focusing on flipping the Senate should be our #1 electoral priority right now,” she wrote. “Presidential candidates have all of media focused on them — they’re good rn. We need to boost Senate candidates & get organizing.”
Ocasio-Cortez also echoed O’Rourke’s criticism of the media for asking politicians whether they believe Trump to be racist. “Don’t ask ‘is [blank] racist?'” she wrote. “Have experts explain what to do about racism.” The congresswoman, whom Trump told last month to “go back to the country “from which [she] came,” has experience with the question. In a January episode of 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper asked her if she thought Trump was a racist, to which she said there was “no question.” The talking point has persisted, and Democrats answering in the affirmative has become less noteworthy and more implicit.
Their response to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton prove not only that they’re willing to label him a white supremacist and white nationalist, as well, but that the president’s is fueling domestic terrorism.