WASHINGTON – The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s visit to a nearby church where he held up a Bible was a “leadership moment” akin to Winston Churchill’s inspection of bomb-damaged London during World War II, a comparison that drew swift condemnation from the author of a new best-selling book on the former British prime minister.
Throughout the yearlong blitz of London by German fighter aircraft, Churchill often watched the bombing raids from rooftops and he made special effort to walk the streets in places where thousands were killed.
The Trump administration has been criticized by Democrats and several Republicans, after peaceful protesters were forcibly cleared from the area around St. John’s Church, where the president posed and held a Bible aloft on Monday. The president did not inspect damage inside the church.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s stroll to St. John’s Church the day after it was damaged by fire during protests was a comforting moment for Americans amid unrest spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Through all of time, we’ve seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for our nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination,” she said.
“Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage and it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people," she said.
She listed other examples of presidential leadership too: George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the World Series after 9/11, Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings; and George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, when he was flanked by disabled Americans.
“For this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists, they will not prevail,” McEnany said.
Erik Larson, author of “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz,” said he was disgusted by McEnany’s comparison.
“The comparison is worse than merely laughable; it verges on obscenity,” Larson tweeted. “Churchill wept when he visited bombed neighborhoods; he offered compassion and hope, and helped people find their courage.”
Trump on Wednesday dismissed criticism of the church visit and suggested that the massive show of force had helped calm protests in Washington and elsewhere. Religious leaders, including Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, have fiercely criticized Trump over the tactics used against demonstrators.
“Most religious leaders loved it,” Trump said in a Fox News Radio interview. “I heard Franklin Graham this morning thought it was great. I heard many other people think it was great. And it’s only the other side that didn’t like it.”
Trump has praised the leadership of Churchill before. The president reinstalled a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office shortly after his inauguration in 2017 and later that year screened the “Darkest Hour,” a film that recounts Churchill’s early days as prime minister in the midst of the war.
___ Madhani reported from Chicago.