WASHINGTON – What do you do when your boss either doesn’t enjoy or isn’t capable of some of the demands of the job?
If you’re a senior Trump administration official, it increasingly means you simply do it for him.
At the United Nations and around the world, it’s been U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley advocating for human rights and democratic values, not President Donald Trump. On TV screens across the country this week, it was White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert telling Americans how to contribute to Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
And then there was Vice President Mike Pence, providing the language and imagery traditionally reserved for a president following a natural disaster – drawing a contrast that could not have been more stark.
When Trump visited Corpus Christi and Austin on Tuesday, he met exclusively with emergency managers and state and federal political leaders. The only time he addressed everyday residents was when he delivered an impromptu campaign-style speech to supporters who had gathered outside the fire station where he had staged his meeting.
Two days later, Pence spent hours touring actual damage from a helicopter, visiting a damaged church and speaking with and embracing storm victims. He even donned work gloves and helped clear broken tree limbs from a front yard in Rockport under the blazing sun.
“It’s almost as if Trump didn’t want to get dirty or like he didn’t want to catch a virus ― like he didn’t want to touch any actual storm victims,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at storm-damaged Rice University in Houston. “It wasn’t Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing or Obama singing Amazing Grace after Charleston or Reagan after Challenger. There was no Trump moment.”
Rick Tyler, a Republican political consultant who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid last year, said Trump simply lacks empathy. “He doesn’t seem to understand other people’s suffering because he has a hard time relating to anything that doesn’t affect himself,” he said.
White House officials insist that the administration has a coordinated plan, all of it directed by Trump himself. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at Thursday’s press briefing said that Pence was in Texas at Trump’s request ― a point reinforced by Pence himself. Speaking to reporters at the Corpus Christi airport following the visit, Pence mentioned Trump 11 times in his brief opening remarks.