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Democratic Candidates Say Trump's Rhetoric Is Partially To Blame For Mass Shootings


The Democrats who want to replace President Trump have been outspoken about the mass shootings. They're talking about issues like gun control and also the role of the presidency in shaping the culture. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow joins us from Des Moines, Iowa.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: Democrats have disagreed with President Trump about a lot of things. What specifically is their focus in response to these shootings?

DETROW: What's interesting is that the focus is not gun control, even as important as an issue as that is for Democrats. Instead, the focus is on the alleged anti-immigrant motivations of the El Paso shooting, pointing to similarities between that alleged manifesto and the language that President Trump uses, as well as his broader divisive language and frequent attacks on minority lawmakers and political opponents. Here's former vice president Joe Biden speaking today in Iowa.


JOE BIDEN: We have a problem with this rising tide of supremacy, white supremacy in America, and we have a president who encourages and emboldens it.

DETROW: And the specific focus from Biden and other Democrats is Trump's repeated warnings of an invasion of immigrants in the country illegally and those recent attacks on minority congresswomen last month that led to send her back chants at that rally.

SHAPIRO: When you say attacks, you mean on Twitter - the insults that he was waging on Twitter and then also in speeches.

DETROW: Right.

SHAPIRO: The president said he was watching the speech that Joe Biden made in Iowa. Apparently, while travelling from Dayton to El Paso, it must have been on the TV in Air Force One. Trump dismissed it as boring. Biden has been very focused on Trump all along. Did we hear anything new from him today?

DETROW: This was probably the most forceful and blunt that Biden has been in condemning Trump, saying again that he emboldens white nationalism, as we heard before. But again, this has also been a broader theme of Biden's campaign since the very beginning. He's running as someone - he's trying to frame himself as a person who can restore the normalcy of the presidency in the United States. And he often says, as he did today, that the soul of America is at stake in this election.


BIDEN: Trump offers no moral leadership, seems to have no interest in unifying this nation - no evidence that the presidency has awakened his conscience in the least. Indeed, we have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division.

SHAPIRO: Scott, a lot of Democrats have said they don't want to fight this campaign on Trump's turf, which they see as cultural issues. They want to focus on policy issues like health care. Do the events of this past week show that that might be difficult for them?

DETROW: Yeah, it's a tough, strategic spot. They wanted to make it about their ideas, but they still feel like they have to stand up and respond to things that they see as important. The flip side, of course, is that in moments like this, this broad field is all on the same page, as opposed to last week, where they were all arguing about health care and other policies. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker spoke today too in a symbolic spot - the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., where a white supremacist shot nine African Americans in 2015.


CORY BOOKER: As a political strategy, weaponizing hatred can be effective. It often seems easy. Generations of politicians have used fear of the other for political gain, and that is certainly the case today.

DETROW: There's some concern from some Democratic strategists that just focusing on Trump's deficiencies could repeat the party's mistakes of 2016. But a lot of the campaigns argue that there's a big difference. And that is that the president now has had three years of a track record in the White House, and that makes voters more receptive, at least in these campaign's arguments, to this type of message.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow.

Thank you.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILA BRAZILLIA'S "A ZED AND TWO L'S") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.