Trump Produces a Week of Mixed Messaging as He Tries to Attack Biden

The former president has sought to project patriotism after the American retreat from Afghanistan — but he will also appear at a boxing match on the 9/11 anniversary, and he continues to stoke racial divisions.,


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Trump produces a week of mixed messaging as he tries to attack Biden.

Former President Donald J. Trump after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in July.
Former President Donald J. Trump after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in July.Credit…Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images
  • Sept. 9, 2021, 4:26 p.m. ET

Banished from social media and deprived of his national platform, former President Donald J. Trump has been clamoring for attention and trying to exploit the series of foreign and domestic crises that are testing the Biden administration.

This week has been one of his most frenetic periods yet.

As Mr. Trump seeks to pounce on President Biden’s handling of the military withdrawal in Afghanistan, he has highlighted the deaths of American service members in an attack at the Kabul airport, going so far as to contact several family members of those killed, The Washington Post reported.

At the same time, Mr. Trump undercut his patriotic solemnity with the announcement that he would spend the evening of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks providing commentary at a boxing match at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla. (Mr. Trump’s team has not yet revealed plans to commemorate the anniversary in any other way.)

And Mr. Trump continued to stoke the country’s racial divisions, issuing an almost ostentatiously provocative statement denouncing the removal on Wednesday of a towering statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, in Richmond, Va.

Praising Lee as a brilliant strategist and statesman, Mr. Trump speculated that, “except for Gettysburg,” Lee “would have won the war.” He added: “If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago.” Mr. Trump also called Lee “perhaps the greatest unifying force after the war was over.”

Lee, whose leadership of Southern forces prolonged the Civil War, has long been held up as a hero of the Lost Cause, which celebrates the pro-slavery Confederacy’s secession from the United States in a conflict that left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead.

Gregory Downs, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, said Lee was not the unifying postwar force that Mr. Trump suggested he was. While Lee accepted defeat, Dr. Downs said, he also actively resisted the terms under which a meaningful reunion could take place and spoke against granting basic rights for Black people. “He is somewhere between an active campaign against a just reconciliation and a passive resistance,” the professor added.

Mr. Trump’s allies have increasingly floated the possibility that he will jump early into the 2024 presidential campaign, though predicting the volatile former president’s moves has always been risky.

This week, Mr. Trump announced that he intended to return to Iowa in October for a rally, visiting a state that presidential hopefuls often frequent given its importance in the early stages of a campaign cycle.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who speaks to him regularly, said last week that he expected a Trump bid, though Mr. Trump has been unwilling to commit publicly when pressed in recent interviews.

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