In times of deep confusion, anger and sadness, we generally look to our leaders for words of comfort, wisdom and guidance. Following the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, many of the 2016 presidential hopefuls gave us a glimpse at how they respond to national tragedy.
Lindsey Graham went home.
When Graham caught wind of the situation in his home state, he cancelled all of his other events to head home. He later attended one of the vigils at the church and spoke about how the city of Charleston can begin to heal. He has, however, been criticized for the marked difference between how he approached this incident and the Boston bombing: He called for further investigation and interrogation of the Boston bombers, but said the perpetrator of the Charleston shootings just a "whacked out kid."
Hillary Clinton made some calls.
Clinton reached out to fellow candidate and South Carolina native Lindsey Graham -- who she knew well from her time in the Senate -- to offer her condolences to him and the people of his home state.
She also called for open discussions of the difficult "truths we don't like to say" about race and gun control in our country.
Lincoln Chafee looked forward to more productive conversation.
Chafee hit Twitter to offer up condolences and prayers for those impacted by the shooting, later adding that the discussions around what crimes can be called "terrorism" is ultimately beneficial.
Martin O'Malley is pissed.
That's a point he reiterated many times in the days following the shooting: He repeated it via Twitter and four times in an email he sent out. He's pissed. In the email, he cited his track record of supporting stricter gun control policies and showcased his frank approach to these kinds of conversations.
Marco Rubio tweeted but didn't speak.
Rubio offered his thoughts and prayers via Twitter on June 18, but did not include mentions of the tragedy in the speech he gave later that day at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference (unlike Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who both addressed the tragedy during their speeches).
As for the flag debate, Rubio said that he believes the people of South Carolina will have to make the decision that is best for their state.
Ben Carson said 'of course' it was 'racially motivated.'
Bernie Sanders nailed it on some of the language issues, but rallied anyway.
Sanders was commended for recognizing the shooting as a reminder of the "ugly stain of racism" and "an act of terrorism." Later, however, many took issue with his "tone-deaf" decision to hold a pre-planned pension rally just yards away from where mourners were honoring the Charleston victims.
Rick Perry made a mistake.
Perry accidentally referred to the shooting as an "accident" in his first interview following the shooting, when he was addressing the president's gun control-related comments. He meant to say incident, and it was an unfortunate flub. The devout Christian governor came back with a more somber reply, drawing more criticism for his focus on the religious over the racial elements when he said "That deranged individual didn't just take lives of black Americans -- he gunned down nine children of God."
Ted Cruz joked too soon.
Cruz offered heartfelt prayers shortly following the shootings, but days later posted a photo of himself at a firing range on Twitter and made a joke about gun-control that fell a little flat. He told the crowd at his campaign event in Iowa: "I’m pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas — hitting what you aim at."
George Pataki spoke against the confederate flag.
The former New York governor posted an official statement to his website early Thursday afternoon, stating that
"While we are still learning the details of this senseless act, if early reports prove accurate, this hate crime is a particularly heinous form of violence. Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens, they disrupt entire communities and cannot be tolerated by a civilized society." He later added his two cents to the flag debate, saying that it had no place in the capitol.
Mike Huckabee shared a Christian perspective.
Also a devout Christian politician, Huckabee commented directly on the effect this crime has on Christians, saying that "a holy place for peace and prayer has been infected and desecrated..."
Rick Santorum agreed that it was an act of terrorism.
Santorum was one of the few Republican candidates to say that the attack on the church was an act of terrorism. When the Confederate flag debate began, he said that he didn't feel it was the federal government's place to make decisions about whether the flag would fly. Instead he said it was a "decision for the people" to make.
Donald Trump stepped aside for mourners.
Trump sent out a decidedly somber message before postponing an upcoming campaign event in South Carolina, saying that it was "a time for healing, not politics."
Jeb Bush said he didn't know "what was on on the mind or heart" of the shooter.
Later on, when the debates about the continued display of the Confederate flag began to pick up steam, Bush said that Florida chose to move the flag "from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged."
Mitt Romney and Obama shared some words.
Yeah, yeah, Mitt isn't running. But this exchange was wayyyy too #iconic to leave out.