By most accounts, President Obama’s heartfelt remarks in response to the tragic and unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin hit exactly the right note. Many were particularly moved when Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
There have been, however, two notable exceptions: Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who condemned the president’s remarks as “disgraceful,” and rival Rick Santorum, who is accusing the president of trying to “divide” the nation.
“What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said in an interview Friday with conservative radio host Sean Hannity. “Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who'd been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn't look like him? … Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."
Rick Santorum joined the bandwagon that same day when he told radio host Hugh Hewitt that Obama should “not use these types of horrible tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America.”
David Plouffe, Obama’s senior campaign advisor, fired back at both candidates on Sunday, calling their remarks “reprehensible.”
"I think those comments were really hard to stomach, really, and I guess trying to appeal to people's worst instincts," he said on CNN’s State of the Union. "I don't think there's very many people in America that would share that reaction.”
Such criticisms aren’t stopping Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator on Monday told conservative Scott Hennen that while race may or may not be a factor in the shooting, Obama’s remarks were an attempt to “try to divide people,” which is “really a sad, tragic legacy of this president,” Politico reports.
He also had a chat with Laura Ingraham, to whom he said, “It’s very, very unfortunate that [Obama] seizes upon this horrific thing where families are suffering and inject that type of divisive rhetoric.”
Time will tell whether Mitt Romney will join the chorus in an appeal to the Republican Party’s far right base. So far, he’s sounded a more sympathetic note.
"Our hearts go out to his family, his loved ones, his friends," Romney said while campaigning in Louisiana on Friday. "This shouldn't have happened."
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(Photos from left: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images, Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)