The TV images could hardly be worse for the White House.
The white van impounded by police as they arrested mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. was shown repeatedly on cable networks Friday, its windows covered with political stickers championing President Trump and showing gun crosshairs on Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and on CNN personalities.
Rapidly on social media, people began calling him the “MAGA Bomber.”
“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” the president said, using the label of terrorism for the first time to describe the string of at least 12 pipe bomb-like devices that authorities have recovered so far.
“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” Mr. Trump said at the start of a meeting with young black leaders. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it, and stop it now.”
But after a week in which Mr. Trump and his aides rejected accusations that his partisan campaign rhetoric may have incited the mail bomber, the early images of the van and details emerging about the suspect’s background are likely to raise the volume of blame against the president two weeks before the midterm elections.
“The pipe bomber suspect’s van is emblazoned with sinister targets over Trump opponents — some of whom received the bombs,” tweeted TV commentator Piers Morgan. “He’s obviously a lunatic, but lunatics get triggered. The President can’t ignore this, he MUST cool down his often violently aggressive rhetoric.”
Conservative commentator Wayne Dupree, who was a member of Mr. Trump’s national diversity council in 2016, said the suspect’s political views shouldn’t be held against the president.
“This guy is either the most ardent Trump supporter, or he isn’t,” Mr. Dupree said on his web site. “Either way, I am still voting Republican this election cycle because this lunatic doesn’t represent me. This man is mentally unwell. His political ideology may have helped him select his targets, but his basic unchecked impulse toward violence comes from something besides conservatism, so I don’t blame the movement.”
Journalist Geraldo Rivera, who walked back his earlier theory that the bombing plot was a hoax to make Republicans look bad, said Mr. Sayoc “has long criminal history of extremist behavior — like his 2002 bomb threats — which predate @realDonaldTrump’s political career.”
“He’s a self-started amateur extremist — He didn’t need Trump for inspiration,” Mr. Rivera tweeted.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asked about the suspect’s motivation, said “I don’t know — other than what you might normally expect — he appears to be a part of something.”
“That would be determined by the facts as the case goes forward,” Mr. Sessions said.
Just about an hour before news broke of Mr. Sayoc’s arrest, the president expressed concern that the heavy news coverage of the mailed bombs was distracting the public from the election in which early voting seemed to favor Republicans.
“Now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows - news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
By early afternoon, the president was again praising law enforcement to his 55 million Twitter followers.
“I want to applaud the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys’ Office for the Southern District of New York, the NYPD, and all Law Enforcement partners across the Country for their incredible work, skill and determination!” Mr. Trump posted.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House, the president once again praised law enforcement for their efforts and said the arrest was “like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Mr. Trump defended how he talks about the media, saying that he is “toned down.”
“I could really tone it up because as you know the media’s been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party,” he said.
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this story.
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