'Mr. Rogers' trends on Twitter after Trump adviser compares Biden to beloved Pennsylvania icon
Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp invoked Rogers to insult Biden.
"Mr. Rogers" continued to trend on Twitter Friday after a top staffer with President Donald Trump's campaign compared the feel of former Vice President Joe Biden's ABC News Town Hall to that of an episode of the beloved children’s show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Some on the internet are calling it a “self-own" as Rogers, a Pennsylvania native, is an icon in the battleground state, key to Trump's reelection hopes.
"Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood," Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a tweet, misspelling the late Fred Rogers’ last name.
"That was your take," a Fox News host said to Schlapp Friday morning. "You have gotten so much reaction to that because some people say, 'Well, wait. He's a beloved man Mr. Rogers -- What's wrong with that?"
"We love Mr. Rogers, but I gotta tell you, those puppets were always a little freaky when I was growing up," Schlapp said, referring to Rogers' mythical friends, King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah, Henrietta Pussycat, X the Owl, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Daniel Tiger and Grandpere.
She went on to criticize what she called a "therapy session," mocking the difference in tone between ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos and Pennsylvania voters at Biden’s town hall -- where she said "easy questions" were asked -- and of Trump's competing town hall in Miami.
But several on social media were quick to fire back at Schlapp, knocking her intention to insult Biden via the beloved children’s television host who famously promoted messages of kindness, patience and friendship.
April Reign, the political activist who created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, called it "the worst self-own I’ve seen this political season" and noted "especially since the universally beloved Mr. Rogers was from Pennsylvania, where Biden was tonight.”
It's unclear how Schlapp's comment might sit with voters in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state Trump is relying on taking to win in 2020 -- but it likely to have gotten some attention.
As the topic "Mr. Rogers" trended Thursday night, several Twitter users shared other clips of Rogers from groundbreaking moments on his show -- like when he invited a Black man to wash his feet with him when pools were still segregated -- to heartfelt moments in real life -- like when he testified before Congress in 1969 to defend public broadcasting funds or when he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmys.
Late Thursday, the Biden campaign, in a statement to reporters reacting to the dueling town halls, also included a tweet from journalist Matthew Yglesias in its list of media reactions, in which he said, “Closing argument from the Trump campaign is to go negative on Mr Rogers.”
Critics of Trump on social media seized on what many considered a failed insult.
Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas, a former Hillary Clinton adviser, tweeted, "Pretty telling that this crew thinks Mr. Rogers is the bad guy.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., also weighed in tweeting, "America would rather have Mr. Rogers than Mr. Hyde."
After her Fox News appearance Friday morning, Schlapp appeared to try to reframe the comment, retweeting a conservative columnist who came to her defense as one user called her tweet "a lovely compliment" to Biden.
"That wasn't her point. Her point was that it was all softball, play-nice-for-the-old-man stuff, with Biden barely even challenged. It wasn't saying his character was like Mr. Rogers; it was that the tone was treacly, sickly sweet, b/c the media is in his pocket (which it is)," said Quinn Hillyer, whose comments Schalpp then retweeted.
Biden, while campaigning in Rogers hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, late last month, made a video call to Rogers’ widow, Joanne Rogers.
Earlier in the month, she criticized Trump in an interview with the Daily Beast and described herself as a "very big Biden fan."
Schlapp's tweet garnered 32,000 comments as of noon on Friday.