WASHINGTON ― In the with-Trump-or-against-Trump universe, former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar died in the enemy camp.
Which means that the beloved-across-party-lines statesman from Indiana did not get a timely statement from President Donald Trump upon his death Sunday, thereby joining the honored ranks of the snubbed. See the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, thousands of living and deceased disaster victims in Puerto Rico and, just one day earlier, Kyler Murray, the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick.
None were known to support Trump, and all have faced, at best, indifference and, at worst, attacks and neglect.
“One can’t be surprised,” said Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “He divides the world into two classes of people: Donald Trump diehards and everybody else. If you’re in that second group, you’re given second-class or derogatory treatment.”
It’s a criticism that former Vice President Joe Biden touched on in his speech Monday announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. He called Trump “the only president who’s decided not to represent the whole country.”
On Saturday, Trump chose to congratulate the NFL’s No. 2 draft pick ― who is white and had publicly supported the president ― while ignoring Murray ― who won the Heisman Trophy, whose baseball skills gave him the option of playing in that sport’s major leagues, and who is black.
Trump has repeatedly insulted McCain even in the months since the senator’s death last year, citing his low ranking in his U.S. Naval Academy class and his vote against a bill that would have repealed Obamacare.
The president has attacked elected leaders in Puerto Rico and vowed not to give the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory any more disaster aid. Yet he has heaped praise on and promised unlimited help to disaster victims in Texas and Alabama, states that voted for him in 2016.
With Lugar, according to a former senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity, it was his public criticism of Trump’s presidential campaign and his failure to endorse Trump that put him on the no-praise list. “He is a never-Trumper,” the ex-official said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was previously governor of Indiana, put out a statement within two hours of Sunday morning’s news that Lugar had died. But there was nothing from the White House at all ― even as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton all praised Lugar’s work in the Senate, particularly in the area of arms control.
It was not until Monday evening ― after HuffPost made multiple inquiries regarding the lack of a statement ― that the White House finally released one.
“The First Lady and I extend our deepest condolences to the citizens of Indiana and the entire Lugar family following the loss of a great American and public servant, Senator Richard Lugar. Richard Lugar, former mayor of Indianapolis and longtime United States senator, was a proud Hoosier and patriot,” the statement read.
There was no accompanying tweet from Trump personally.
In stark contrast, Trump ― who has never evinced much interest in religion or spirituality and rarely goes to church ― posted a tweet calling Billy Graham “a very special man” within an hour of the news of the evangelist’s death a year ago.
“There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions,” the president wrote.
Graham, however, was revered by white evangelical Christians, who are Trump’s only real base of political support, according to numerous polls.
Trump has long defended his own transactional nature. During the 2016 campaign, he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin because, he said, Putin had praised him. “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump said in December 2015.
Similarly, Trump frequently tells his supporters that he looks out for them because they voted for him, while he attacks those groups that he believes oppose him, including the news media and the investigators who conducted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
“You joined our movement, the greatest movement in the history of our country, because you rejected the failures and the betrayals of the past. You were betrayed. You were betrayed by dishonest people. You were betrayed by stupid people,” he told his audience at a rally in Wisconsin on Saturday. “You have always been loyal to this nation. Now you finally have a president who is loyal to you.”
Norman Ornstein, a longtime scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has in recent years become a vocal critic of Republicans generally and Trump in particular, called the president’s divisive brand of leadership unprecedented.
“Trump is unlike any president ever,” Ornstein said. “More like Jefferson Davis than Thomas Jefferson. No wonder he admires Robert E. Lee.”