President Donald Trump's mocking tweets of MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski's looks and temperament earned a flood of rebukes from many lawmakers in his own party Thursday.
Some fellow Republicans called the insults beneath the dignity of the office of president, a precedent set by George Washington. One political communications expert called the breach of decorum unprecedented and problematic.
Hours after Brzezinski said on "Morning Joe" that "it's not normal behavior" for a leader to tweet about people's appearances, Trump claimed she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" on a New Year's visit to his South Florida estate.
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"I heard poorly rated @Morning Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore)," Trump wrote. "Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came ... to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
A statement from MSNBC referred to the tweets as "bullying," and while a White House spokeswoman said Trump is the kind of president who "fights fire with fire," other members of the party were critical of the remarks, starting from the top.
"Obviously I don't see that as an appropriate comment," House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters, adding it's not helping to "improve the tone and civility" of debate.
"Inappropriate. Undignified. Unpresidential," tweeted Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who ran against Trump for the Republican nomination for president
Several Republican senators took issue with the tweets on the platform, with Nebraskan Ben Sasse and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski among the most direct, urging the president to "stop" the behavior.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, elaborated on her comment while appearing on MSNBC Thursday afternoon: "We're not always going to get along but there's no need for such uncivil language."
The notion that the presidency should be imbued with dignity dates back to the end of George Washington's term. He wrote John Adams in 1789 that "in all matters of business & etiquette," the president must "maintain the dignity of Office."
"Presidents are supposed to uphold the highest standards of behavior so that the country can model itself on the president's behavior and so the children can look up to the president," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
To be sure, politicians on both sides of the aisle over the years have called the actions of inhabitants of the Oval Office as beneath the dignity of the presidency.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, long before his nomination as Hillary Clinton's running mate, was quoted as calling former President Bill Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky scandal "beneath the dignity of the office."
More often it's members of the opposite party who criticize a president's conduct, such as when Republicans slammed Barack Obama for using the N-word while talking about racism.
Jamieson said that Trump's tweets about Brzezinski raise questions about Trump's ability to adhere to Washington's precedent of decorum and suggest that he's not focused on important domestic and international issues.
"To try to take news attention away from contentious world issues … then engage in this level of inappropriate discourse is unprecedented, and highly problematic," Jamieson said. "Why would the president of the United States demean himself and the office by engaging in this kind of rhetoric, if the person was capable of self-reflection and self-control?"
One Republican in the House, Lynn Jenkins, of Kansas, linked the president's tweets to her own experience as a female politician, while Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said leaders need to "set the example" on participating in politics without vitriol.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., invoked the dignity of the office as well, and used the hashtag, "#StopTheTwitterTantrums."
Asked about criticism over the dignity of the presidency, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he shows that dignity "every day in the decisions that he's making, the focus and the priorities that he's laid out in his agenda."
But she added that, "when they hit him, he's going to hit back."
And asked about those in Congress urging Trump not to contribute to the air of hostility, Huckabee Sanders said, "The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence of anything — if anything quite the contrary."
Trump has, though, been accused of inciting violence during his presidential campaign. Three protesters at a March 1, 2016, rally in Louisville, Kentucky, allege in a lawsuit that they were punched by Trump supporters in the audience at the candidate's command. Video from the event shows Trump pointing at the protesters and saying "get them out." Trump and his lawyers have said he does not incite or condone violence.
Evan McMullin, a Republican who ran for president as an independent in 2016 and remains a staunch critic of the president, argued that, "if you're a Republican leader and you're still supporting President Trump, you own this."
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