Presidents tread tricky disaster politics

Presidents tread tricky disaster politics
Associated Press | Evan Vucci, File

WASHINGTON (AP) — The politics of natural disasters can be tricky for a president.

Long before President Donald Trump tossed paper towels to storm-stricken Puerto Ricans and denied Hurricane Maria’s official death toll, his predecessors struggled to steer the nation through life-and-death emergencies.

To project empathy without looking weak. To show both command and cooperation. To put the focus on victims — but provide leadership, too.

A look at how presidents have grappled with the challenges and opportunities of disaster politics:

Trump is not known for shows of empathy and relishes fights he thinks will resonate with his core supporters.

That includes a bitter and lasting brawl with Puerto Rico in the year since the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria. He also has grappled with getting it right in ruby-red Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey, which dumped nearly 50 inches of rain near Houston.

Trump’s first post-Harvey trip to Texas generated blowback for his failure to meet with victims of the storm. Four days later, he returned — and urged people at a Houston shelter to “have a good time.” He also cheered on volunteers and emergency workers and handed out hot dogs and potato chips to residents. Some critics said the president’s trip took on the tone of a victory lap for successful disaster management.

Trump has had trouble keeping facts right about the devastating storms under his watch.

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