Earlier today, Donald Trump put on his best “tan manikin” face paint, strolled out to the Rose Garden with Mitch McConnell in tow, and spent the better part of an hour regaling reporters with all manner of crazy nonsense, the scope of which was actually some semblance of impressive in terms of sheer brazen ambition.
Trump hop-scotched from topic to topic with no regard whatsoever for continuity, taking on all comers in the process. The President took no prisoners, touching on everything from tax reform, to health care, to drug addiction, to FEMA, to Steve Bannon, to Mueller, to Cuba, to Hillary Clinton.
To be clear, almost none of it made any sense, but the only time he got himself into real trouble was when someone asked this:
Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the Soldiers that were killed in Niger? And what do you have to say about that?
Now if you were watching this live, you held your breath because you already knew something was bound to go wrong and indeed, you could tell by the look on his face when he realized what the question was that he was going to screw it up. Sure enough…
Trump on soldiers killed in Niger: "President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls … I call when it's appropriate." pic.twitter.com/sgj5iEuDhz
— Axios (@axios) October 16, 2017
So that was going ok-ish, right up until the 0:52 mark when, unable to restrain himself from trying to somehow turn a question about dead soldiers into a pissing contest with Obama, he decided it was a good idea to say “the traditional way — if you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.”
Clearly, that’s egregious for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that even if it were true and he knew it to be true definitively, he shouldn’t say it, but it is in fact not true and later on in the “proceedings” he was called out on it as follows:
The President: Peter. Go ahead, Peter.
Q: Earlier, you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know if he did. No, no, no, I was told that he didn’t often.And a lot of Presidents don’t; they write letters. I do —
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, Peter. I do a combination of both. Sometimes — it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do — all I can do is ask my generals. Other Presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some Presidents didn’t do anything. But I like the combination of — I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.
Got that? Just to recap, “President Obama probably called sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t,” but Trump “doesn’t know,” although he does know that “other” unnamed Presidents “did not call” but rather “they’d write letters” and some of those same “other” unnamed Presidents “didn’t do anything.”
Well needless to say, lots of people are furious. Specifically, people from all three previous administrations. Here’s ABC:
“President Trump’s claim is unequivocally wrong,” a former Obama official said in a statement to ABC News. “President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country.”
“President Bush wrote all the families of the fallen, and called and/or met privately with hundreds if not thousands,” a spokesperson to former President George W. Bush told ABC News.
An aide to President Bill Clinton also called the claim false. “He did call the families of fallen soldiers while in office,” the official told ABC News.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House deputy chief of staff and a longtime scheduler for Obama, told ABC News, “It is unconscionable that a president would dare to ever portray another as unpatriotic, which is essentially what he was doing.”
Other Obama officials took to Twitter to respond, including former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes:
“This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards. Also: Obama never attacked a Gold Star family,” Rhodes wrote, referring to Trump’s feud with the Khans, the parents of deceased U.S. Army officer Capt. Humayun Khan.
So yeah, that didn’t go well. And see this is the kind of thing that could get him into real trouble with Republicans. Because while everyone (including Obama himself) has just gone ahead and accepted the fact that Trump is hell-bent on destroying his predecessor’s legacy, if he starts taking aim at the Bush family and dragging dead soldiers into it, he’s going to end up risking a rebuke from them, especially considering that’s a prickly issue given the Iraq wars. “Low energy Jeb” is one thing. But I can assure you that picking a fight with both Bush presidents is not something he wants to do.