Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Friday that President Donald Trump "seems to derive joy" from provoking some Americans to hateful speech and actions, and she says that goes to issues deeper than whether the president is a white supremacist.
"I've not said this out loud, but I think it and I feel it," Harris told The Associated Press during an interview traveling across Iowa.
"He seems to derive joy from the response he gets when he talks this way. It seems he derives some element of joy in inciting people around, around outrageous and hateful rhetoric."
Trump's recent series of racist remarks toward women of color in Congress, as well as the ties between his anti-immigrant rhetoric and the deadly mass shooting in El Paso, have sparked a debate in the 2020 Democratic field over whether the president is a white supremacist.
Harris, like former Vice President Joe Biden and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, has stopped short of using the label. Meanwhile, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have said it applies.
Harris, on a weekend-long campaign trip to the early caucus state, said that debate misses the point.
"It literally oversimplifies the issue, because it's almost that the conversation begins and ends with that," Harris said on her tour bus traveling across rural northwest Iowa.
"The lens through which I think about it is so much broader than a label." Harris cited Trump's 2017 ban on travelers from six largely Muslim countries, his 2018 order banning transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces except under limited circumstances, and his constant degradation of immigrants entering the US from the Southern border.
She said they are part of a pattern Trump has followed to feed his own psyche instead of encouraging acceptance at a time of increased hate crimes.
By ascribing personal motives to Trump's rhetoric, Harris' comments go further than most candidates, who have not shied from connecting Trump's rhetoric and the El Paso shooting Saturday, when 22 people were killed by a man who admitted to police he had targeted Mexicans.
"Democrats have spent every moment trying to overturn the election of 2016," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. "So now they've moved on to calling (Trump) and his supporters racist. Those are the real divisive tactics."