Dayton, OH (AP) - Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits Wednesday to two cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. But his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks soon followed.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso late in the day after visiting the Dayton hospital where many of the victims of Sunday's attack in that city were treated. The president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was "with them," she said. "Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him."
But outside Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Trump's incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
Emotions are still raw in the aftermath of the early Sunday morning shooting rampage that left 10 dead, including the gunman, in the city's popular Oregon entertainment district. Critics contend Trump's own words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned violence in cities including El Paso, where another shooter killed 22 people over the weekend.
For pictures of protesters in Dayton, click here
And the vitriol continued Wednesday. Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, a potential 2020 rival and the press. It was a remarkable split=screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.
Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea that he bears some responsibility for the nation's divisions. And Trump continued to do so as he left for the trip on Wednesday.
"My critics are political people," Trump said, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he "brings people together."
Some 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling. And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted "Ban those guns" and "Do something!" during Trump's visit.