Trump Retweets Inflammatory Anti-Muslim Videos From Far-Right Group In Britain
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump went on Twitter to give his opinion of NBC's firing of Matt Lauer. He asked when the top executives at the network would be fired for, quote, "putting out so much fake news." But those aren't the tweets that are leading to the major blowback today. Instead, President Trump is facing criticism from a U.S. ally after he retweeted inflammatory and unverified anti-Muslim videos from a far-right party in Britain. We are joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson to talk about this. Hello, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
MCEVERS: So once again we see the White House in a defensive crouch here because of the president's tweets. What are they saying about these anti-Muslim retweets?
LIASSON: As usual, it's the job of the White House communications staff - in this case, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders - to try to interpret or reinterpret the president's tweets. And today she said reporters were focused on the wrong thing, which is whether these videos were real or not. And she went on to say this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. And that is what the president is talking about. That's what the president is focused on - is dealing with those real threats. And those are real no matter how you look at it.
LIASSON: Presumably she was talking about some kind of national security threat. But the videos the president retweeted were showing that Muslims themselves are violent and dangerous. One of them shows a purported Muslim migrant beating up someone on crutches. Another one shows Muslims purportedly throwing a teenager off a roof.
Both of these videos, as you said, are unverified. And at least one of them - the one purporting to be of a Dutch man on crutches being beaten - was investigated by snopes.com, the fact-checking website. And they determined that the attacker was not a Muslim migrant.
MCEVERS: Are we seeing something new or different here with these tweets from the president?
LIASSON: I don't think it's different in the sense that it's not unusual for the president to tweet out things that many people see as outrageous, whether it's today's tweets or the video of a train slamming into a person with the CNN logo Photoshopped on their head...
LIASSON: ...Or the video of the president himself body slamming a person with the CNN logo Photoshopped on their head. Some are merely outrageous. Some are consequential. Sometimes they're both.
MCEVERS: Right. And sometimes the tweets have consequences, right?
LIASSON: Yes, sometimes they do. This one certainly did, at least in the short term - got very strong condemnation from the British prime minister. And yesterday there was another tweet that had consequences. Just hours before the president was supposed to meet with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, he...
LIASSON: ...Slammed them in a tweet for being weak on immigration, crime and taxes and said he didn't see that he could make a deal with them. So they didn't come to the White House meetings, said they'd rather negotiate with Republicans in Congress.
MCEVERS: Right. So if there are consequences, then why does he do it? What's the strategy?
LIASSON: I don't think there's a - necessarily a strategy behind each individual tweet. Sometimes he's just reacting to a video or something he saw on "Fox And Friends." Or maybe in the case of the Chuck and Nancy tweets, he was trying to reassure his base that he wouldn't be making another immigration deal with them. Remember that short-lived deal he made with the Democrats on DACA. He got some pushback from his base. Then he reversed himself.
But I think as a whole, the tweets do add up to a strategy, whether it's talking about black millionaire athletes in the NFL or ungrateful Puerto Ricans or Muslims. He's expressing the cultural grievance of his white, working-class base. And there's another overarching goal which he has talked about in interviews. He said if it wasn't for social media, I doubt I would be here. This is how he dominates social media, drives the narrative on cable TV, stays the center of attention. And that is how Trump defines success.
MCEVERS: And the conversation away from things like, say, Russia and the investigations, right?
LIASSON: That's right.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Would you say there's a difference between Twitter Trump and President Trump?
LIASSON: Absolutely. On Twitter, he's the nationalist populist who ran for president, the prosecutor of the culture wars. But then when you look at his policies, particularly the tax bill, he's governing as a pretty typical conservative Republican.
The tax bill, for instance, triggers Medicare cuts of $25 billion a year. That's something he promised explicitly not to do as a candidate. It's heavily tilted to the rich and corporations, something he's explicitly promised not to do as a candidate. And he said the rich would pay more under his tax bill. So it's almost as if the traditional constituents of the Republican Party, the wealthy corporations - they get the economic policies. His working-class base - they get the Twitter feed.
MCEVERS: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.