WASHINGTON — President Trump widened his war on critics of color on Monday with new attacks on the Rev. Al Sharpton and other political opponents even as he gathered his own African-American allies at the White House to defend him against charges of racism.
In a third straight day of broadsides against black figures, Mr. Trump denounced Mr. Sharpton on Twitter as “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops” and again assailed Representative Elijah E. Cummings and his Baltimore-based district, drawing rebukes from Maryland Republicans as well as Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s determination to intensify the furor rather than move on guaranteed that it would continue to dominate the political debate in Washington and force many of the president’s fellow Republicans to choose whether to stand by him, break with him or, in the case of most, find a way to keep out of the discussion.
The president linked the clash with Mr. Cummings to his earlier demand that four Democratic congresswomen of color “go back” to their home countries, and he cast it in electoral terms. “If the Democrats are going to defend the Radical Left ‘Squad’ and King Elijah’s Baltimore Fail, it will be a long road to 2020,” he tweeted. “The good news for the Dems is that they have the Fake News Media in their pocket!”
To defend himself, Mr. Trump enlisted a couple of his reliable African-American supporters. He brought a group of about 20 “Inner City Pastors,” as he called them, to the White House for a meeting on Monday about how to help the black community. Aides said the event was planned long before the fight with Mr. Cummings as part of a bid by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to win African-American votes next year.
But if the White House had hoped for a show to shield the president from his detractors, it did not materialize. Mr. Trump, who enjoys inviting news cameras into meetings to showcase his visitors and expound on his views, kept the encounter behind closed doors, and just two of the attendees publicly testified afterward on the White House driveway to the president’s good faith in wanting to improve life for African-Americans.
“The president is concerned about the whole nation, about everybody in the nation,” said Alveda C. King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a leader of an anti-abortion group who also belongs to “Women for Trump” and is a Fox News contributor. “So I want us to remember that we’ve been designed to be brothers and sisters. One member of the human race. Not separate races.”
The Rev. Bill Owens, the founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, said that he found it “hard to believe” that Mr. Trump was a racist, citing the president’s support for opportunity zones and an overhaul of criminal justice laws.
Asked about the president’s attacks on Mr. Cummings, Mr. Owens demurred. “Well, those are his words,” he said. “I don’t want to second-guess what he says because I hear a lot of things. I see also people pandering to black people, to get them on board with some of their agenda.”
Mr. Trump’s latest tweets provoked increasingly angry reactions in Baltimore and increasingly acute concerns inside the West Wing. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, criticized the president’s attack on the state’s largest city as “outrageous and inappropriate,” and an ally of both Mr. Cummings and Mr. Trump in the House defended the congressman against the president.
Several White House officials expressed agreement during a senior staff meeting on Monday morning that the president’s attacks were a bad move, according to people informed about the discussion, but they were uncertain who could intervene with him — or if anyone would even dare try.
They privately scoffed at the idea that it was strategy rather than impulse, concluding that any political benefit he might derive by revving up his conservative, largely white base could be offset by alienating more moderate voters in the suburbs of states like Wisconsin and Michigan that he needs to win a second term.
Three advisers said the president complained about Mr. Cummings throughout the weekend. Two of those advisers said the real source of his ire was the decision by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which Mr. Cummings leads, to authorize subpoenas for all work-related texts and emails sent or received by Mr. Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s elder daughter and senior adviser, on personal accounts.
In taking on Mr. Sharpton, the president confronted a fellow veteran of New York’s often inflammatory racial politics. Mr. Trump was evidently peeved that Mr. Sharpton traveled to Baltimore on Monday to denounce the attacks on Mr. Cummings.
“I have known Al for 25 years,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He ‘loved Trump!’ He would ask me for favors often. Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score. Just doing his thing. Must have intimidated Comcast/NBC. Hates Whites & Cops!”
Mr. Sharpton, a longtime civil rights leader and MSNBC host, fired back during his appearance in Baltimore.
“Called me a troublemaker?” he said. “Yes, I make trouble for bigots. I made trouble for him with Central Park. I made trouble with him for birtherism. I’m going to keep making trouble for bigots. As far as me being a con man, if he really thought I was a con man, he’d be nominating me for his cabinet.”
Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Trump did get along in the past even as they clashed over the case of the Central Park Five involving black and Hispanic teenagers who were accused of raping a white woman but were later exonerated. Mr. Sharpton grew increasingly critical after Mr. Trump began falsely accusing President Barack Obama of being secretly born in Kenya.
Mr. Sharpton has his own complicated history on race. He was an outspoken activist through a string of racially charged episodes in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, and was regarded in that era alternately as a champion of social justice or as a self-promoting provocateur. He drew broad criticism as one of the most vocal supporters of Tawana Brawley, an African-American teenager whose claims of rape by a gang of white men in 1987 were exposed as a hoax.
Mr. Sharpton has reinvented himself as a more measured, mainstream national voice on civil rights, and he ran for president in 2004. His National Action Network has become a force on the political left and even Mr. Trump twice attended its conventions.
The flare-up with Mr. Sharpton came after Mr. Trump assailed Mr. Cummings over the weekend, saying the congressman should spend less time criticizing the president’s handling of detained migrants at the border and more time fixing his “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” district where “no human being would want to live.”
After he was accused of perpetuating racist stereotypes about the majority-black district, Mr. Trump tweeted that it was Mr. Cummings who was a racist and that his fellow Democrats were playing “the Race Card.” On Monday, he nicknamed Mr. Cummings “King Elijah,” accusing him of “25 years of all talk, no action!”
The president was so obsessed with the congressman and Mr. Sharpton that he started his day focused on them and ended it that way, as well. His first tweet attacking Mr. Sharpton came at 6:30 a.m. By 10:45 p.m., he was still at it, along the way vaguely insinuating corruption by Mr. Cummings without any hint of evidence.
“Billions of dollars have been pumped in over the years, but to no avail,” Mr. Trump wrote. “The money was stolen or wasted. Ask Elijah Cummings where it went. He should investigate himself with his Oversight Committee!”
Mr. Cummings made no comment on Monday. But in Baltimore, Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor who himself is black, joined Mr. Sharpton to denounce the president’s attacks.
Mr. Steele urged Mr. Trump to visit Baltimore if he really cared about conditions for people living there. “Folks want to talk to you,” he said. “So just show up. Put the tweet down, brother, and show up.”
Mr. Hogan, who considered but opted against a Republican primary challenge to Mr. Trump next year, issued a broad criticism of “angry and divisive politics” in Washington punctuated by too much tweeting and name calling. But he largely avoided addressing Mr. Trump by name.
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Hogan said on WBAL radio. “People are just completely fed up with this kind of nonsense.”
Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a senior Republican on Mr. Cummings’s committee and a friend of the chairman’s, broke his silence on Monday. Mr. Meadows, who when accused of racism himself was defended by Mr. Cummings, sent a text to former Senator Rick Santorum, a CNN commentator, to read on air.
“No one works harder for his district than Elijah,” Mr. Meadows said in the text as read by Mr. Santorum. “He’s passionate about the people he represents, and no, Elijah is not a racist. I am friends with both men, President Trump and Chairman Cummings. I know them both well, and neither is a racist.”
Other Republicans rejected the suggestion that Mr. Trump singles out lawmakers of color.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, that’s ridiculous — no, he does not,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota. “If African-American lawmakers are going after him, he goes after them. If a white lawmaker goes after him, he goes after them. If there were striped lawmakers and they went after him, he’d go after them.”
Mr. Trump has told aides he sees his latest outbursts as smart strategy. The president has long been petrified of losing his base, and some aides believe he will need to maximize turnout from the voters who helped put him in the White House the first time given the highly partisan environment.
Several advisers said they were aghast that he was making such a target of Mr. Cummings. If anyone had tried to persuade the president of that, they were keeping it to themselves on Monday. But many advisers sounded defeated as they talked about a tweetstorm they hoped would end soon.