Hours before touching down in El Paso in the wake of mass shootings, Trump has picked a new fight with a Democratic contender because of his Spanish-sounding name.

President Trump has picked a fight with El Paso-born Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke, calling him "phony" and telling him to "be quiet" ahead of a visit to Texas in the wake of a mass shooting.

On Wednesday, Trump will visit El Paso to meet with first responders and pay respects to the victims of the massacre that killed 22 people.

People visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP
People visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP

His presence is being treated warily by some in the city who believe Trump's divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric played a role in stoking the white nationalism that inspired the gunman.

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Just hours before he was due to touch down, Trump tweeted that the Democratic presidential contender had a "phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage."

The President said he should "respect the victims & law enforcement — & be quiet!"

Beto O'Rourke's full name is Robert Francis O'Rourke however he was given the nickname Beto as a child to distinguish him from his grandfather. Beto is a common Spanish nickname for those with names such as Roberto or Alberto.

Opponents have long claimed the nickname is manufactured to create an authentic image for a district with a large proportion of Spanish speakers.

O'Rourke previously said: "My parents have called me Beto from day one, and it's just — it's kind of a nickname for Robert in El Paso. It just stuck."

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke and wife Amy Hoover Sanders. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke and wife Amy Hoover Sanders. Photo / AP

"I just don't think that's what folks in Texas want us to focus on. ... We can focus on the small, mean, petty stuff or we can be big, bold, courageous, and confident."

He even tweeted a picture of himself as a child with a Beto jumper on.

President Trump's message of national unity in response to mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton has been slammed for the fact that it ignores his own incendiary, anti-immigrant rhetoric that mirrors language linked to one of the shooters.

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It is a highly unusual predicament for an American president to at once try to console a community and a nation at the same time he is being criticised as contributing to a combustible climate that can spawn violence.

White House officials said Trump's visits Wednesday to Texas and Ohio, where 31 people were killed and dozens wounded, would be similar to those he's paid to grieving communities including Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas, with the president and first lady saluting first responders and spending time with mourning families and survivors.

"What he wants to do is go to these communities and grieve with them, pray with them, offer condolences," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. He said Trump also wants "to have a conversation" about ways to head off future deadly episodes.

President Donald Trump has preached national unity in a speech that has not gone down well with those who believe he is responsible for stoking anti-immigrant sentiment. Photo / AP
President Donald Trump has preached national unity in a speech that has not gone down well with those who believe he is responsible for stoking anti-immigrant sentiment. Photo / AP

"We can do something impressive, inspirational to prevent this from ever happening again, if we come together," the spokesman said.

That's a tough assignment for a president who thrives on division and whose aides say he views discord and unease about cultural, economic and demographic changes as key to his re-election.

At the same time, prominent Democrats have been casting blame on Trump more often than calling for national unity in the aftermath of the shootings, a measure of the profound polarisation in the country.

Trump, who often seems most comfortable on rally stages with deeply partisan crowds, has not excelled at projecting empathy, mixing what can sound like perfunctory expressions of grief with awkward offhand remarks. While he has offered hugs to tornado victims and spent time at the bedsides of shooting victims, he has yet to project the kind of emotion and vulnerability of his recent predecessors.

People crowd around a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP
People crowd around a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP

Barack Obama grew visibly shaken as he addressed the nation in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre and teamed up while delivering a 2016 speech on new gun control efforts.

George W. Bush helped bring the country together following the Sept, 11 attacks, notably standing atop the smoking rubble of the World Trade Center, his arm draped over the shoulder of a firefighter, as he shouted through a bullhorn. Bill Clinton helped reassure the nation after the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City and the mass school shooting at Columbine High School.

Trump, too, has been able to summon soothing words. But then he often quickly lapses into divisive tweets and statements — just recently painting immigrants as "invaders," suggesting four Democratic congresswoman of colour should go back to their home countries, though all are citizens, and describing majority-black Baltimore as a rat-infested hell-hole.

In the Texas border city of El Paso, some residents and local Democratic politicians said Trump was not welcome and urged him to stay away.

"This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday's tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso," Beto O'Rourke tweeted.

"We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here."

In Dayton, Mayor Nan Whaley said she would be meeting with Trump on Wednesday, but she told reporters she was disappointed with his scripted remarks Monday responding to the shootings.

His speech included a denunciation of "racism, bigotry and white supremacy" and a declaration that "hate has no place in America."

Police officers walk behind Walmart at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP
Police officers walk behind Walmart at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Photo / AP

But he made no mention of new efforts to limit sales of certain guns or the anti-immigration rhetoric found in an online screed posted just before the El Paso attack.

Dayton Mayor Whaley said simply, "Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart — that's up to the president of the United States."

Recent Pew Research Center polling found 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate in the country has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse. And more than three quarters — 78% — say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.