Friday was supposed to be a big day in Miami politics. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was finally coming back into town after months away. Eager supporters waited to meet him. Committed opponents intended to denounce him.
Thursday night in Dallas upended all those plans. A sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven others, as well as two civilians, in a rampage so shocking it cast a pall over the country and suspended presidential politics for a day, almost as if reminding candidates and voters about things that matter more.
Trump called off his two Friday campaign events in Miami. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton canceled her appearance with Vice President Joe Biden in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Both released written statements of sympathy.
“I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families & all who serve with them,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.
Trump denounced the “execution-style shootings” as “a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe.” He also acknowledged why cops were on the street: guarding a peaceful protest over the prior killings of two black men by police.
“The senseless, tragic deaths of two motorists in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done,” Trump said. “Our nation has become too divided.”
His tone appeared markedly different from the statement he released last month after the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. On that occasion, Trump suggested he had predicted domestic terrorism and urged President Barack Obama to resign.
Trump’s visit to Miami was also meant to be different, to build relationships with Hispanic politicians, business people and pastors who might be wary of Trump because of his past comments about Mexicans and his proposal to build a border wall. He had scheduled a speech preceded by a political lunch at Versailles Cuban restaurant. Among the 20-30 guests would be a high-profile lineup of Trump supporters: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It would have been Rubio’s first time attending a Trump event.
Instead, Trump remained home in New York. Scott released a statement saying he was “heartbroken.”
Only Rubio scheduled a public appearance: a news conference at his Doral office, right around the same time he originally planned to be having lunch with Trump. An unusually large bank of TV crews met Rubio because so many national reporters were around to cover Trump.
The senator, who is seeking re-election, had decided to comment on the week’s shootings before Trump canceled his events. He asked staff to put the presser together — even if it meant missing part or all of the Trump lunch, the Miami Herald learned.
Rubio didn’t have legislation to propose; he said there might be no law to prevent similar incidents. But as a presidential candidate, he had made a point of speaking sensitively about how police sometimes treat African Americans — including a friend of his, a black police officer who Rubio says frequently gets pulled over for no obvious reason.
“Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America,” Rubio told reporters. “But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African-American man with no criminal record, who was pulled over with a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying while his 4-year-old daughter watches from the backseat.”
He was referring to Philando Castile, the man killed Thursday in Falcon Heights, a Twin Cities suburb. Alton Sterling was shot Wednesday in Baton Rouge. Both deaths were caught on graphic online videos — as were some of the Dallas killings.
Rubio pointed to how Miami overcame police tensions and riots in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an example for other cities to follow.
“There are communities in this country that have a terrible relationship with their local law enforcement. We need to recognize that,” Rubio said. “We also need recognize that law enforcement officers in this country are truly among the best that we have. What these people do on a regular basis, you never hear about it. You never hear about the great things they do. No one is capturing that on video or online. It’s only when some bad actor or some bad incident occurs we hear something about it.”
Miami Herald staff writer Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.