DALLAS — A president at war with much of his own party spent nearly four hours in Dallas on Wednesday. Adoring fans cheered him at Love Field and 200 well-heeled donors rubbed elbows with him downtown.
But if Donald Trump was hoping for a respite from the venomous atmosphere in Washington, his day trip to Dallas offered little. Catcalls from hundreds of protesters filtered into the swank fund-raiser. “Go home Cheeto!” they yelled, holding signs that read “Liar liar” and “shame.”
A day earlier, two Republican senators questioned his fitness for office, echoing criticism about a lack of civility and truthfulness from former presidents and others. Before boarding Marine One on his way to Dallas, Trump paused on the South Lawn to defend himself. He complained about “fake stories” that paint him in a negative light, with news media routinely reporting “a lot of bad things” that aren’t true about him.
“I went to an Ivy League college,” said Trump, who graduated the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. “I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person. ... I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”
Wherever the blame lies, Trump’s national approval ratings are below 40 percent. They’re somewhat higher in reliably Republican Texas, if not in Dallas proper, a Democrats’ oasis.
At back-to-back fund-raising events at the Belo Mansion, Trump raised $4 million from 200 donors, according to a GOP official. The funds go to his own 2020 re-election campaign account and to the Republican Party. Donors paid $2,700 to $100,000, with the biggest donors getting the most face time.
Across Ross Avenue from the mansion, protesters gathered with signs expressing displeasure: “SHAME” and “Save U.S. — Impeach.”
One sign in neon pink was too vulgar to repeat. Another read, “Trump that boy don’t act right.”
The visit started with a briefing on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Trump’s plane touched down shortly after 3 p.m. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others provided a briefing before he left Love Field.
The president lauded recovery efforts and Texas officials praised him for the federal response.
Trump sang the praises of a type of drywall called Greenboard that resists water damage, suggesting that Houston-area homes should use it on the ground floor in the future. He also spoke vaguely of a multibillion-dollar flood protection plan to avert such disasters, apparently referring to the “Ike Dike” or some other massive public works project to ward off coastal flooding; it’s unclear how that would have averted problems from Harvey’s 50-inch rainfall.
“Let’s take a look at the costs and then see if it’s possible to do, because that would save a lot of money into the future and it would also put a lot of people to work,” he said.
The president left town just after sunset. The White House did little to publicize the visit. Aides didn’t announce the trip until late Tuesday, though word had spread weeks ago through donors, and the Trump campaign ran a contest for donors offering dinner with the president.
On Tuesday, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican who had criticized Trump before, used a speech announcing he wouldn’t run for another term to denounce the president and try to shame GOP colleagues into joining him.
“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” he said. “We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.”
Hours earlier, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, who also is retiring, reiterated his own warning that Trump is mentally unstable, and leading the United States toward perilous confrontations, including a nuclear staredown with North Korea.
This came days after two former presidents — Dallas’ own George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, and Trump’s predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama — issued their own warnings about the coarseness and erratic judgment of the current president.
At Love Field, a hundred or so enthused backers awaited his arrival, and they had sharp words for Trump’s critics.
David Burraston, 38, a Fort Worth resident, called the attacks unfair. The senators may view Trump as unfit but it’s not up to them, he said.
“It feels like it’s a trend to dump on Trump,” he said. “For people that like President Trump, like myself, it’s refreshing that he speaks openly ... . The people decided that he’s fit to be president, and the people decided he’s fit to make those big decisions. We elected him. We get to decide.”
Patty Tellez, 63, a retired parole officer who lives in Trophy Club, also was waiting at the tarmac. She also defended the president against the growing chorus of criticism.
“The country needed him. He’s what the American people wanted. We needed a change,” she said, echoing the view that Trump’s critics should defer to the will of the public. “No matter what party you’re in, you’re going to have people who don’t like him. But the American people have spoken.”