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Trump Hits a New Low With Swipe at Former Presidents

Trump's assertion that past presidents failed to call family members of fallen soldiers may be his lowest moment yet.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn as he returns to the White House in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn as he returns to the White House on Sept. 24.Al Drago / The New York Times via Redux

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump hits a new low with swipe at past presidents

It’s easy to get exhausted by all of the inappropriate statements and unfounded accusations that President Trump has made in his nine months in office — or to dismiss them as bluster.

But we can’t ignore what happened yesterday, in what might have been Trump’s lowest moment yet as commander-in-chief.

Asked if he called the families of four American soldiers killed in Niger, Trump answered, "If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls… I want a little time to pass, I'm going to be calling them."

The accusation was demonstrably false, as NBC’s Dartunorro Clark writes. “Obama called and wrote letters to families of fallen service members on multiple occasions, and visited them as well, according to numerous news reports at the time… Former President George W. Bush also took the job of reaching out to families of dead service members as a serious and solemn ‘duty.’”

When NBC’s Peter Alexander asked Trump how he could make that claim about Obama, Trump replied, “I don't know if he did, no, no. I was told that he didn't often.”

Just consider Trump’s other ill-considered comments:

  • In March, he accused (without any evidence) Obama of wiretapping him: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
  • In June, he attacked London’s mayor after a terrorist attack there: "At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is "no reason to be alarmed!"
  • In July, he gave a political speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree: "Did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?" (The crowd, in West Virginia, booed at Obama's name.)
  • In August, Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Va.: “I think there is blame on both sides,” he said. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”
  • Last month, he called NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem SOBs: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field?’”
  • Also in late September, Trump attacked Puerto Rico’s mayor, who had criticized his administration’s response to the hurricane there: "Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help," he tweeted. "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job."

None of these statements was about politics or policy or ideology — instead, they were all about his respect for the highest office in the land.

Earlier this month, Trump confidante Tom Barrack told the Washington Post that Trump is “better than this.”

“He thinks he has to be loyal to his base,” Barrack told the Post. “I keep on saying, ‘But who is your base? You don’t have a natural base. Your base now is the world and America, so you have all these constituencies; show them who you really are.’ In my opinion, he’s better than this.”

It’s time for the president to prove that.

McCain’s thinly veiled shot at Trump

The United States can’t “abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe”: Meanwhile, fellow Republican John McCain last night criticized Trump over policy — not personality — although McCain didn’t do so by name. “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain said after being awarded the National Constitution Center’s annual Liberty Medal, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

More McCain: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

A tale of two photo-ops

Talk about verbal whiplash. Compare what President Trump said at his cabinet meeting yesterday, versus what he said just hours later with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. NBC’s Hallie Jackson on “Today” called it a “tale of two photo-ops.”

Trump at cabinet meeting: GOP senators are “not getting the job done”

“I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we’re not getting the job done.”

“And I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done. We’ve had health care approved, and then you had the surprise vote by John McCain. We’ve had other things happen, and they’re not getting the job done.”

Trump with McConnell: I’m closer with Mitch McConnell than ever before

“We’ve been friends for a long time. We are probably now, despite what we read, we are probably now, I think at least as far as I’m concerned, closer than ever before, and the relationship is very good

Trump at cabinet meeting: I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels

“I know how [Steve Bannon] feels. Depends on who you're talking about. There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves. But most of them — I tell you what, I know the Republican senators; most of them are really, really great people that want to work hard, and they want to do a great thing for the American public.

But you had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us. So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels. Okay? Thank you very much.

Trump with McConnell: "I'm going to see if we can talk [Bannon] out of that"

“Steve is doing what he thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I’m going to see if we talk him out of that because frankly they’re great people.”

Senate Intel Committee asks Mike Flynn’s son for documents, testimony

NBC’s Ken Dilanian, Carol Lee and Mike Memoli: “The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents and testimony from Michael G. Flynn, the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but has not received a response, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.”

“The committee, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, is interested in Flynn’s work as his father’s aide and travel companion with Flynn Intel Group, the consulting firm retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn formed after he left government service, the sources said.”

New VA GOV poll

Northam 48 percent, Gillespie 44 percent: This week’s Wason Center tracking poll of Virginia’s gubernatorial race has Democrat Ralph Northam leading Republican Ed Gillespie by four points among likely voters, 48 percent to 44 percent.

Last week’s poll had Northam up seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent – but the change is all within the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.