WASHINGTON — President Trump, after a weekend spent assailing a leading African-American congressman from Baltimore, widened his war on critics of color Monday morning as he denounced the Rev. Al Sharpton as “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops!”
Trump seemed to be responding to a Twitter post in which Sharpton showed himself at an airport “headed to Baltimore,” presumably a reference to the president’s attacks on Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the Democrat who represents much of Maryland’s largest city.
“I have known Al for 25 years,” Trump wrote on Twitter as he reposted Sharpton’s tweet. “Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He ‘loved Trump!’ He would ask me for favors often. Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score. Just doing his thing. Must have intimidated Comcast/NBC. Hates Whites & Cops!”
Sharpton fired back not much later.
“Trump says I’m a troublemaker & con man,” he wrote on Twitter. “I do make trouble for bigots. If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet.”
Sharpton, a longtime civil rights leader and MSNBC host, has indeed known Trump from their days in New York together and has grown increasingly critical of the president over the years. He has been particularly outspoken in recent weeks as Trump assailed four first-term Democratic congresswomen of color, demanding they “go back” to their home countries even though all of them are US citizens — three of them were born in the United States and the fourth was naturalized as a teenager.
“I’ve never heard him say anything racial,” Sharpton recently told The New York Times of his time with Trump in New York. But when it came to prominent people of color, he added, “I always sensed he was not comfortable being around us. He reminded me what he was — a Queens guy. He saw us as entertainers or athletes that he had to do business with.”
He noted that Trump did not surround himself with people of color in his business before becoming president.
“I’ve never seen a black exec in Trump Organization,” Sharpton said. “As somebody who has been involved in civil rights for decades, he’s one of the few major figures that I’ve never seen a black on his C-suite. That takes effort in a city two-thirds black and brown.”
Sharpton has his own complicated history when it comes to race. He was an outspoken activist through a string of racially charged episodes in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, and was regarded in that era alternately as a champion of social justice or a self-promoting provocateur. He drew broad criticism as one of the most vocal supporters of Tawana Brawley, an African American teenager whose claims of abuse and rape by a gang of white men in 1987 were eventually exposed as a hoax.
Sharpton has reinvented himself over the years as a more measured and more mainstream national voice on civil rights and social justice, and he ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004. His National Action Network has become a force on the political left, and even Trump twice attended its conventions — indeed, he cut the ribbon at the 2002 gathering.
Sharpton on Monday posted a picture of himself with Trump. “Trump at NAN Convention 2006 telling James Brown and Jesse Jackson why he respects my work. Different tune now.”
The flare-up with Sharpton came after Trump assailed Cummings over the weekend, saying the congressman should spend less time criticizing the president’s handling of detained migrants at the southwestern border and more time fixing his “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” district where “no human being would want to live.”
The attack generated a cascade of responses from critics who said the president was playing to racist stereotypes. Sharpton announced that he would appear in Baltimore on Monday with Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor who himself is black, to decry the president’s remarks.
Trump evidently noticed.
“Al Sharpton would always ask me to go to his events,” he wrote as part of his Twitter blast Monday morning. “He would say, ‘it’s a personal favor to me.’ Seldom, but sometimes, I would go. It was fine. He came to my office in T.T. during the presidential campaign to apologize for the way he was talking about me. Just a conman at work!”
He went after Cummings again as well.
“Baltimore, under the leadership of Elijah Cummings, has the worst Crime Statistics in the Nation,” Trump wrote. “25 years of all talk, no action! So tired of listening to the same old Bull . . . Next, Reverend Al will show up to complain & protest. Nothing will get done for the people in need. Sad!”
In a phone interview with MSNBC after Trump’s initial attack on him Monday morning, Sharpton attributed it to the reelection politics of 2020.
“He’s going to attack the most visible black that comes across his desk that he thinks can set a tone,” Sharpton said. “We need to stand up and deal with the fact that this president’s policies hurt people all over this country.”