DAYTON, Ohio — President Trump began a day set aside for healing in Dayton and El Paso by lashing out against his political rivals and the news media, employing the kind of divisive language that prompted protests in both cities even before he arrived.
He mocked Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic candidate for president who once represented El Paso in Congress, for having a “phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage” and he linked the Dayton shooter to liberal politicians. Later, in comments to reporters, Mr. Trump repeated attacks on illegal immigrants and called another Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., “a pretty incompetent guy” who has “truly lost his fastball.”
The president held back from making any further public statements once he arrived in Dayton on Wednesday morning, visiting privately with families and victims of the city’s weekend massacre as well as emergency and hospital workers. But even as his spokeswoman said the event was never designed as a photo op, Dan Scavino, the president’s social media director, posted on Twitter pictures from inside Miami Valley Hospital. “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video,” he tweeted. “They all loved seeing their great President!”
Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton, and Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, joined Mr. Trump on the visit to the hospital and said they each pressed the president to take more aggressive action to pass gun control legislation after this weekend’s shootings in the two cities, which left 31 people dead. Even though officials refused to allow reporters to witness the Dayton hospital visit, arguing it was not designed to be a photo op, the White House quickly released a video featuring images of Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, shaking hands with emergency workers and chatting with hospital staff members.
In a news conference soon after Mr. Trump departed Dayton for El Paso, Mr. Brown and Ms. Whaley said the president refused to commit to signing a universal background check bill, but told them that he would “get things done.” Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump told reporters that he supported background checks, but did not provide details about what legislation he might sign.
Mr. Brown said Mr. Trump “was received as well as you can expect by the patients.”
“They are hurting,” Mr. Brown said. “He was comforting. He and Melania did the right things. It’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it.”
But Ms. Whaley added: “I’m not holding my breath. Too often we just see complete inaction, because they’re waiting just for time, to forget that nine people died in Dayton because of a gun that shouldn’t be legal, frankly.”
Flying on Air Force One, Mr. Trump attacked the senator and the mayor on Twitter, saying they had misrepresented what happened inside the hospital. “Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud,” the president wrote. “It bore no resemblance to what took place.”
Mr. Scavino added on Twitter: “They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can.”
Mr. Trump’s motorcade from the Dayton airport passed two recreational vehicles adorned with pro-Trump signs and flags, as well as one man standing outside a store advertising survival supplies with a sign that appeared to object to so-called red-flag laws that prevent people with mental illness from getting guns: “Red Flag Is Dystopic Future.”
But Mr. Trump’s visit was also met with small groups of protesters who gathered to say that he was not welcome in their community, waving signs that said “Dump Trump” and “Do Something!” The protesters were met by counterdemonstrators who waved signs supportive of Mr. Trump.
The main protest of about a hundred people materialized along a stretch of South Main Street, in a grassy field a few blocks from the hospital where Mr. Trump was visiting some of the shooting victims.
Michael Prince, 55 — burly, tattooed and bushy-bearded — stood next to Jim Madewell, 71 — burly, tattooed and bushy-bearded — and watched the scene.
Mr. Madewell, a retired printing press foreman who said he lives 100 yards from the Dayton gunman’s house, said Mr. Trump’s language “throws gasoline on the fire,” and that leads to violence. “He feeds on negativity and hate and fear,” Mr. Madewell said.
During the president’s stop in Dayton, Mr. Biden’s campaign released excerpts from a speech the former vice president later delivered in Iowa. In the remarks, Mr. Biden accused Mr. Trump of fanning the flames of white supremacy and racism.
“Our president has aligned himself with the darkest forces in this nation,” Mr. Biden said. Mr. Trump “offers no moral leadership,” he added, saying that the president has “no interest in unifying the nation” and that there was “no evidence the presidency has awakened his conscience in the least.”
“Indeed, we have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism and division,” Mr. Biden said.
Leaving the White House on Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump was asked to respond to another comment by Mr. Biden in which he said the president had more in common with George Wallace than George Washington.
“Well, Joe is a pretty incompetent guy,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve watched his interviews. I’ve watched what he said and how he said it. And I wouldn’t have rated him very high in the first place. But Joe Biden has truly lost his fastball, that I could tell you.”
Later, as the former vice president delivered the speech, the president tweeted his disgust from Air Force One as he traveled from Dayton to El Paso.
“Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring!” the president tweeted. “The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”
Mr. Trump did not arrive in El Paso until about 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, but like in Dayton, protesters gathered ahead of his arrival, demonstrating their anger about what they said was his divisive language and unwillingness to push for aggressive gun control measures. Judy Lugo, the president of the Texas State Employees Union, which represents 10,000 state workers, was one of the people who said Mr. Trump should not have come to El Paso.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Ms. Lugo said of the president’s visit. “The people here need to mourn, they need to be left alone. They don’t need him coming down saying how sorry he is when people don’t think he’s sorry.”
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