Did President Trump go too far?
Trump often uses Twitter as a way to attack his political opponents and other critics. But a pair of Thursday morning tweets hurling insults at the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, sent shockwaves through through the political universe.
"I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore)," Trump tweeted.
"Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Brzezinski and Scarborough responded to the Twitter attack during their show Friday morning saying President Trump is "not well."
The insults sent to Trump's nearly 33 million followers — and, in particular, the mention of female host Brzezinski "bleeding" — prompted media organizations to loudly denounce the comments, and triggered an outcry even from members of the president's own party.
"Obviously I don't see that as an appropriate comment," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters. "What we're trying to do around here is improve the tone, the civility of the debate. And this obviously doesn't help do that."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski was more succinct in her slam.
"Stop it!" the Alaska Republican wrote on Twitter. "The presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down."
Other Republicans, such as Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said the epithets were unbecoming. "Your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America," Graham said.
As Sasse put it: "Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office."
Brzezinski may have drawn the president's ire because of her own comments early Thursday morning. On Morning Joe, she said, "Let’s say someone came into NBC and took over NBC, and started tweeting wildly about people’s appearances, bullying people, talking about people in the competition, lying every day, undermining his managers, throwing them under the (bus) — that person would be thrown out. It’s just not normal behavior."
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president's tweets, saying that he was simply fighting back against criticism. "I think the president is pushing back against people who attack him day after day after day," Sanders told reporters. "Where's the outrage on that?"
But it was the very personal nature of the attack on Brzezinski that has driven the outrage.
Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, said the tweets focused on Brzezinski more and subjected her to "more shaming." She contended that the president had treated the co-hosts in different, gendered ways.
"When viewed through a postfeminist lens, it is clear that Mika Brzezinski is attacked based on beauty standards and her intelligence, while Joe Scarborough is attacked by weighing his success," Grygiel said.
Criticism of Trump for his treatment of women is hardly new. He's been criticized over the years for his previous comments on women ranging from Rosie O'Donnell ("pig") to Carly Fiorina ("look at that face!"). Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, he was forced to apologize – a rare occurrence for Trump – for lewd comments he made about women in a 2005 video of him and Access Hollywood's Billy Bush.
The graphic mention of Brzezinski's face "bleeding" was reminiscent of another Trump feud with a different female media personality: Megyn Kelly. Back in 2015, in the early days of Trump's candidacy, he attacked Kelly, then a journalist for Fox News, after she herself questioned him about the language he used to describe women.
"She starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions, and you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes," he said. "Blood coming out of her wherever."
Still, the president's criticisms on Twitter have not been limited to women. After the election, but before he took office, he called out a union leader on the social media platform, saying he had done a "terrible job representing workers." Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999 said the president's tweets led to him receiving threats from some Trump supporters.
After Trump's tweets, many users of the social media platform said they had reported the president's comments as abusive. Twitter, which bans "targeted abuse or harassment of others" on its network, declined to comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.
Still, Trump's comments launched a day-long discussion about whether his tweets be considered cyberbullying, given that he is the president of the United States and is, thus, more powerful than nearly everyone he interacts with.
"Donald J. Trump: Cyberbully-In-Chief," Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida said on Twitter.
Donald J. Trump: Cyberbully-In-Chief. https://t.co/CuipUgZulk— Rep. Lois Frankel (@RepLoisFrankel) June 29, 2017
What's more, several journalists and commentators pointed out that his own wife, first lady Melania Trump, had pledged to create an anti-cyberbullying campaign last year. That effort has yet to be launched in any official or public way.
Many of the president's targets have some kind of power – Brzezinski, after all, is the co-host of a show that had its best-watched quarter earlier this year – to fight back. But that didn't quell the criticism that he is abusing the power of the presidential podium.
For his part, Trump has insisted time and time again that he isn't a bully. And the White House seems to prefer another term. "The American people elected a fighter," spokesperson Sanders said.
Here are more reactions to President Trump's tweets as compiled by the Associated Press:
Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith led his afternoon newscast with Trump's actions, which he said "some critics are calling sexist cyberbullying."
He interviewed "MediaBuzz" host Howard Kurtz, who noted that Trump frequently punches back at critics, but said, "This is a punch where he has actually wounded himself."
Kurtz said, "It's perfectly clear to people who are not paid to defend him that he crossed a line." He said the White House can't blame the media for harsh coverage since it brought the issue on itself.
Smith also took the unusual step of reading three emails from viewers who criticized him for his coverage of the story.
He said one reader wrote on social media that "Shep is a liberal hemorrhoid" who would better fit on MSNBC.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that Trump's tweet "really saddens me because it is so beneath the dignity of the president of the United States to engage in such behavior."
She says it was "blatantly sexist."
Illinois Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger wrote on Twitter: "Mr. President, it is incumbent upon ALL of us to tone down this divisive political rhetoric.#RestoreCivility."
Florida Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo put out a series of tweets saying leaders should set an example free of personal attacks and vitriol.
"Let's all remember the lessons from the Congressional shooting just a couple weeks ago. We must treat one another with decency & respect."
Americans agree we must work to build a better politics in our country; free of personal attacks & vitriol. Leaders must set the example— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) June 29, 2017
Personal attacks & character assassination yield a culture of social & political violence in which people can become radicalized & dangerous— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) June 29, 2017
Let's all remember the lessons from the Congressional shooting just a couple weeks ago. We must treat one another with decency & respect— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) June 29, 2017
First Lady Melania Trump is defending her husband's tweets.
The first lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said Melania Trump has long said that "when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder."
Melania Trump has said that she hopes to use her White House position to combat cyberbullying.
Republican Sen. James Lankford insists President Donald Trump and other leaders "should model civility, honor and respect in their political rhetoric."
The Oklahoma lawmaker says Trump's comments "don't help our political or national discourse and do not provide a positive role model for our national dialogue."
Lankford says he oversaw a hearing with U.S. Capitol Police that touched on safety after the June 14 shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and several others at a baseball practice. Scalise remains hospitalized after the attack.
The gunman died after an exchange of shots with police; he had railed against Trump and Republicans.
Democrat Nita Lowey, a congresswoman of New York says, "The president's behavior should be repudiated loudly and clearly."
Lowey says the president's tweets were "heinous and vile comments about the looks and intelligence of a prominent woman."
Five-term Republican congresswoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas says on Twitter: "This is not okay. As a female in politics I am often criticized for my looks. We should be working to empower women."
This is not okay. As a female in politics I am often criticized for my looks. We should be working to empower women. https://t.co/sV6WDE0EUD— Lynn Jenkins (@RepLynnJenkins) June 29, 2017