It was once again up to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to go on the Sunday talk shows to defend President Donald Trump, and he said it wasn’t right to make a link between the commander in chief’s rhetoric and the gun violence seen in the country this weekend. “This is a serious problem, there’s no question about it. But they are sick, sick people. And the president knows that,” Mulvaney told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “Again, Jon, I don’t think it’s fair to try and lay this at the feet of the president.”
During the interview, Mulvaney said the suspected gunman in El Paso, Texas, for example, appears to have been motivated by beliefs he held from even before Trump moved into the White House. “This was a sick person, the person in Dayton was a sick person,” Mulvaney said. “No politician is to blame for that. The person who was responsible here are the people who pulled the trigger. We need to figure out how to kind of create less of those kinds of people as a society and not trying to figure out who gets blamed going into the next election.”
Mulvaney also defended the president when asked whether he had downplayed the danger of white nationalism. “I don’t think it’s at all fair to sit here and say that he doesn’t think that white nationalism is bad for the nation. These are sick people,” Mulvaney said. “You cannot be a white supremacist and be normal in the head. These are sick people. You know it, I know it, the president knows it.”
Several Democratic candidates for president, meanwhile, called for action on gun control while also making links between Trump’s rhetoric and the shootings. One of the ones who made the case most strongly was former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso and represented the district in Congress. O’Rourke told CBS News that Trump had “a lot to do with what happened in El Paso yesterday.” Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants perpetuated “the kind of fear, the kind of reaction that we saw in El Paso yesterday.”
Sen. Cory Booker also made the direct connection between the president and the shooting in El Paso. “I think, at the end of the day, especially because this was a white supremacist manifesto, that I want to say with more moral clarity that Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Booker said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, was a bit less direct than Booker and O’Rourke, but he still pointed the finger at Trump. “The person that is responsible for the shooting is the shooter,” Castro said on CNN. “At the same time, if you’re in a position of leadership, you set the tone for the country, and there is no question that this president is setting a tone of division and fanning the flames of bigotry and of hate.” Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, made an even less direct link but did say that “at best” Trump is “condoning and encouraging white nationalism.” He added that “it is very clear that this kind of hate is being legitimized from on high.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren also didn’t make an explicit link but did say the president was stoking hatred. “We need to call out white nationalism for what it is—domestic terrorism,” she wrote on Twitter. “We need to call out the president himself for advancing racism and white supremacy.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders followed a similar approach and wrote a tweet in which he called on the president to change his rhetoric. “Your language creates a climate which emboldens violent extremists,” he wrote.