Trump moves to get base ‘stirred up’ with NFL attacks
President Donald Trump on Monday dug in on his feud with professional athletes, declaring on Twitter that “many people” booed the NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem, and denying that he’s stoking racial tensions with his attacks.
Trump’s clash with the NFL is extending into its fourth day, and while it’s pulling attention from heated debates on health care and tax reform, those around the president say he sees the issue as a way to reconnect with his base.
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“He knows it’ll get people stirred up and talking about it,” a senior administration official said.
The official added the Trump fears his supporters may be feeling neglected after he decided to not immediately cut off protections for undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers and after he cut a deal with Democrats on the debt ceiling and government funding.
Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend, said on Monday that the president is focused on the patriotism angle of the debate and is brushing off the charges of racism.
“He’s in a bubble here because he knows he’s not a racist. His friends know he isn’t,” Ruddy said in an interview. “He sees himself standing on the high ground of the truth. But the media are telling the rest of the country a different story about him.”
Trump first stoked the issue on Friday at a rally in Alabama, where he told the crowd “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 right now — he’s fired.’” Trump’s Twitter account was peppered with similar sentiments throughout the weekend, including one post in which he suggested that NFL ratings and attendance had dipped in part because “many stay away because they love our country.”
On Monday, Trump showed no signs of backing down.
“Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!” Trump tweeted. “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”
Trump’s attention to the kneeling of NFL players during the national anthem — a silent protest against racial inequality in the U.S. — comes at the start of a week already brimming with other issues likely to require the president’s attention, including last-ditch efforts on Capitol Hill to repeal and replace Obamacare, Tuesday’s Senate primary runoff in Alabama, nuclear saber-rattling by North Korea and the ongoing recovery in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.
Nonetheless, Trump is doubling down on his claims, and his aides have been defending him as a patriot, who is standing up against those who are disrespecting the millions of Americans who have fought to keep the country free.