Politics Invade the East Palestine, Ohio, Train Crisis

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The fever pitch of distrust was understandable for a community that saw what appeared to be an apocalyptic plume of chemicals rise from the wreckage on the rail line, then filmed dead fish and frogs in East Palestine’s streams and complained of headaches, sore throats, coughing and skin rashes — all as government officials assured them the air and water were safe.

But if East Palestine felt ignored in the immediate aftermath of the derailment, its travails are now playing out on a vast national tableau of partisan politics.

The environmental activist Erin Brockovich is planning a town hall event on Friday at the town high school. Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic congresswoman-turned-conservative-gadfly, took a spin through the town earlier in the week, then rushed to the television cameras to describe it.

The Fox News anchor Bret Baier did concede that visits to train derailments by transportation secretaries, including Mr. Trump’s, Elaine Chao, were rare, especially when the accidents did not cause fatalities.

But more broadly, the derailment has been a chance for Republicans and their supporters in the conservative news media to showcase the white, working-class voters who flocked to Mr. Trump, and whom Mr. Biden has struggled to win back — and the power that Mr. Trump and other celebrities who remain in his orbit still hold in places like East Palestine.

After Mr. Trump on Wednesday praised John Rourke, the owner of the Florida-based company Blue Line Moving, for his relief efforts in Ohio, Tucker Carlson invited Mr. Rourke onto his top-rated cable news show to let him rip into the current president.

“The fact that President Biden has refused to come to this small town when he’s supposed to be Scranton Joe, a small-town hero of the working man, and he can’t even show his face in a town of American citizens that need his leadership, that need the government’s help terribly, he proved what everybody, I think, already knew in this country, is that he’s not the leader for this country,” Mr. Rourke said Wednesday night. “Donald J. Trump is the leader that we all know he is, and he is the leader of this country.”

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