Speaking 250 miles apart Tuesday, but as if reading from the same hymnal, President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton delivered simultaneous withering critiques of Donald Trump’s response to the Orlando terror attack.
The seemingly coordinated salvo from the Democratic Party’s two biggest heavyweights is a preview of the months to come, when Clinton will have at her disposal at least two popular presidents, the vice president, her Democratic primary opponent, and a slew of other high-profile Democrats.
Clinton’s campaign would not comment specifically on whether the two speeches were coordinated, but spokesperson Nick Merrill said, “Obviously we speak regularly with the White House.”
As the Clinton campaign musters a coordinated communications strategy, Trump has been left more or less to defend himself, with few high-profile surrogates to back him up.
“At this point, Trump is like an army column advancing with no armor on either side of him,” said Robert Shrum, a former top strategist to two Democratic presidential campaigns. “He put himself in a very vulnerable position.”
In its response to Obama’s evisceration Tuesday, the Republican National Committee, which Trump has leaned on to supplement his under-developed campaign, made no effort to defend its presumptive nominee. The committee’s press release criticized Obama’s terror strategy and linked it to Clinton without even mentioning Trump.
The disparity between the two sides has been especially noteworthy since the Orlando mass shooting upended the campaign script.
During Trump’s speech in New Hampshire on Monday, when he expanded his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., the state’s top Republican officials did not attend — the audience was filled instead with people invited by Republican operatives.
None of the North Carolina GOP congressional delegation was expected to attend Trump’s campaign event Tuesday night in Greensboro, NC, either, citing congressional business, according to an NBC News survey.
The tandem rebuke of the Republican on Tuesday by former rivals Obama and Clinton, regardless of whether the White House and the campaign coordinated directly, worked together to reinforce the party line.
Obama in Washington, mocked Trump’s fixation with Democrats’ refusal to say the words “radical Islam,” which has become a key argument against Obama and Clinton in their approach to terrorism.
“There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point,” Obama said. “Not once has an advisor said, ‘Man, if we only used that phrase, we’d really turn this thing around.’ ”
Clinton, at a union hall in Pittsburgh, echoed the sentiment. “Is Donald Trump saying that somehow there are magic words that once uttered will stop terrorists from coming after us?” she asked.
Obama also knocked “yapping” from “politicians who tweet” — Twitter being one of Trump’s primary means of communication — adding that “loose talk and sloppiness” is dangerous.
Clinton, for her part, slammed Trump’s response to the Orlando shooting as reckless and lacking substance. “He went on TV and suggested that President Obama is on the side of the terrorists. Now just think about that for a second,” she said. “Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for President of the United States.”
Obama criticized Trump’s “dangerous” proposal to ban Muslims. “Where does this stop?” the president asked. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Place them under special surveillance? Discriminate against them because of their faith? Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. It doesn’t reflect our ideals.”
Clinton called the Muslim ban “a recruiting tool for ISIS to help them increase its ranks of people willing to do what we saw in Orlando.” Clinton also said the idea wouldn’t even work, since the Orlando shooter “was born in Queens, New York just like Donald was himself.”
The speeches dominated cable news Tuesday and provoked a blistering Trump response. “I watched President Obama today, and he was more angry at me than he was at the shooter,” Trump said in North Carolina.
Soon, however, along with President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Trump will have to contend with Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and likely Bernie Sanders, each holding events in different places across the country, and all setting their sites on Trump.
A Biden aide said the vice president’s office is already working with the Clinton campaign on scheduling, and hopes to have a date for his deployment soon.
Each of those figures can dominate local news coverage wherever they are, and it will be difficult for Trump to keep up, even as he continues to draw national attention.
Trump has proven he can command enough attention to drown out opponents on their own, but he hasn’t faced this kind of sustained and coordinated attack from highest levels of an entire political party.
“It’s clear that neither the President nor Secretary Clinton are going to allow Donald Trump to dominate the headlines unanswered,” said Ben Labolt, a former Obama spokesperson. “Republicans didn’t succeed during the primary because either ignored him, or mimicked him, or responded with a scattershot message. Today was a good indicator that the one man monologue is over for Mr. Trump.”