It started bad, with the president questioning the way his predecessors dealt with the families of war dead. It’s only got worse, as the story has morphed into one of an allegedly callous presidential call to a grieving widow of a US soldier killed in Niger.
Trump was insensitive – soldier’s mother
Here are five reasons why this snowballing story is so damaging to the president.
It cuts against a strength
Mr Trump campaigned on being a defender of the US military and, in particular, US veterans. Time and again he said those in the armed services weren’t being treated well and railed against ongoing evidence of bureaucratic bungling in the veterans’ health system.
As a candidate and as president, he has boasted of how much the military loves him and regularly surrounded himself with soldiers and martial symbolism – a way of burnishing his credentials as a strong commander-in-chief. He appointed ex-generals to his administration and lined his redecorated Oval Office with flags.
Now he has to deal with accusations that he is dishonouring the memory of service member who died on his watch. Questions are already swirling about why these soldiers were put in harm’s way and whether enough was done to ensure their safety.
Reporters are digging into other contacts Mr Trump has had with the families of slain soldiers. The Washington Post reports that of 11 it reached, seven had been contacted by the president. One father said Mr Trump had promised him a personal check for $25,000 (£18,900) but hadn’t delivered.
Four others had heard nothing and were angry. The next time the president surrounds himself with soldiers, the public might be reminded of this – and become angry, too.
It re-enforces a weakness
An important job of a modern US president is to serve as “consoler-in-chief”; a stable, reassuring voice in times of national distress or tragedy. This can take place on a large scale – when visiting the site of a natural disaster or high-profile accident – or small, in comforting a family member grieving over their loss.
It’s a skill that successful politicians learn early on – the human touch – and anti-politician Trump is having a difficult time with it.
In the days after Puerto Rico was struck by a massive hurricane, he was tweeting about the territory’s pre-existing financial mismanagement and escalating a feud with San Juan’s mayor.
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