What Trump got right in Texas

Story highlights

  • Alice Stewart: Trump's decision to visit Texas, away from rescue efforts, was the right call
  • His trip alone goes a long way to mobilizing resources to areas in need, she says

Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Hurricane Harvey is historic, not just in its size and scope, but in its significance as Donald Trump's first natural disaster test as President. His "darned if you do, darned if you don't" decision to visit South Texas on Tuesday, away from the rescue efforts, was the right call. Trump is demonstrating he has the compassion and commitment to meet the needs of victims of the deadly storm.

Alice Stewart
Critics blasted Trump for not meeting with victims directly to offer his personal condolences. Look, there's plenty of time for the powerful photos showing comfort, but now is the time for action -- not optics. These people are in the rescue and recovery mode, which can only be hampered by the distraction of a presidential visit. They need homes, not hugs; they need structure, not selfies, and they need funds, not a presidential flyover.
Unfortunately, every president has been forced to lead this country through natural or man-made disasters and faced the challenges of serving as consoler in chief: President Barack Obama had the Charleston, South Carolina, shootings; President George W. Bush had 9/11; President Bill Clinton met the challenge after the Oklahoma City bombing. All rose to the occasion.
    Likewise, Trump is stepping up to the challenge, reassuring storm victims that resources are on the way.
    This first trip to Texas was an opportunity for the President to meet with local leadership, first responders and relief organizations in Corpus Christi. He also got a firsthand look at the state's emergency operations center in Austin.
    A relative of mine working at that center told me the exhausted crews, who have been on rotating 12-hour shifts, were grateful the President made the visit. Their No. 1 priority has been to take care of the people of Texas, and Trump's encouraging words lifted their spirits and boosted morale.
    This is personal for me. Houston was my home-away-from-home during much of Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign. I saw daily the neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit there. That -- along with federal assistance -- will make an enormous difference.
    When I worked for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee after Hurricane Katrina, we learned that government bureaucracy was part of Katrina's disaster. The lack of coordination between agencies only added insult to injury. As thousands of storm victims fled to Arkansas for shelter, Huckabee cut through the red tape to provide assistance.
    It was a teachable moment for emergency responders, which is paying off today.
    While in Austin, Trump touted the coordination of federal, state and local officials in the Harvey response. His trip alone goes a long way to mobilizing resources to areas in need. The President stressed that the top priority of the federal government is protecting the lives and safety of those in affected areas while supporting authorities in Texas and Louisiana.
    Every president is different and as a result, handles a crisis differently. I am forever moved thinking about Obama, wiping away tears, as he spoke of the Sandy Hook tragedy with such heartache and compassion.
    Trump is different. He has tweeted words of comfort and used his social media presence to provide valuable information for storm victims. The administration vows his personal visit is the first of many.
    In this world of "you only get one chance to make a first impression," Trump used his chance to demonstrate he is committed to meeting the needs of victims of this epic storm. He plans to return to the region over the weekend to reassure victims that federal help is not receding with the floodwaters.
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    As a journalist, I have covered many natural disasters. The foul smell of standing water and stain line of receding floodwaters on walls are harsh reminders of the force of Mother Nature. Now is not a time to play politics and point fingers. It's not about red or blue -- it's about green. It's about getting the resources to the right places for people to adjust to their new normal.