The lying started at 7:27 a.m. and did not stop until after dark.
Even for Donald Trump, Monday, Aug. 1, was a banner day for bullshit.
With 100 days until Election Day, the Republican presidential nominee decisively rejected suggestions that he make some attempt to appear statesmanlike in his campaign against Hillary Clinton, opting to commit fully to the erraticism and dishonesty that characterized his performance in the Republican primary.
Monday was a dive, hair-first, into a general election strategy not yet seen before on American soil—and a strategy for existing as a human being in the world not usually seen outside the bowels of the New York City subway system after 2 a.m.
Typed into the ether on Twitter, shouted at the people of Columbus, Ohio, at a town hall, or yodeled at a rally to the cable cameras and citizens of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the steady stream of nonsense could not be corked.
That is, until the fried chicken arrived.
In the afternoon in Ohio, Trump said he sometimes tweets while in bed in the morning, so let’s picture him there, bundled in rich silks, when he said at 7:27: “This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!”
This is some very lazy spin.
The story is about Trump’s unprecedented sustained character assault on the parents of a Muslim American soldier, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber.
His father, Khizr Khan, addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week and, in doing so, pointedly criticized Trump’s candidacy.
Trump, in turn, responded by insinuating that the soldier’s mother, Ghazala Khan, had remained quiet because their Muslim faith doesn’t permit women to speak (in reality, she’s said, she’s so overcome by grief that she often cannot speak).
Trump then suggested that Khizr Khan doesn’t have a right to say Trump has not read the Constitution, which is a rather convincing piece of evidence in favor of Khan’s argument.
Meanwhile, Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime adviser and the one-time business partner of his campaign chairman, pushed out a conspiracy that Khan has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood before correcting himself and claiming that, actually, Khan “praises Muslim Brotherhood but is tied is tied to Saudi Jihadis [sic].”
At 8:50 a.m., Trump again took to Twitter to claim, “When I said in an interview that Putin is ‘not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down,’ I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea! So with all of the Obama tough talk on Russia and the Ukraine, they have already taken Crimea and continue to push. That’s what I said!”
That is not what he said.
Here, Trump is asking that we pay attention only to what he says he meant to say.
On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, George Stephanopoulos questioned Trump about his operatives weakening the Republican platform with respect to Ukraine. Trump first said he wasn’t involved in that effort, and “I’d have to take a look at it,” which is an incredible admission of ignorance in itself.
He then said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand. He’s not going into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”
Except Putin is already in Ukraine, having seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Stephanopoulos corrected him. “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” he asked.
“Well, he’s there in a certain way,” Trump said, uneasily, “but I’m not there. You have Obama there, and, frankly, that part of the world is a mess, under Obama.”
After clarifying his remarks Monday morning, Trump returned to the scheduled programming we have come to expect: a succession of six tweets sent out in five minutes, lancing CNN for its supposed unfairness.
The network, he claims, is biased toward Clinton, despite employing multiple pro-Trump talking heads—including Corey Lewandowski, his own former campaign manager who continues to receive payment from Trump—and the network rarely casts a panel without one of them present.
Once onstage in Ohio around 3 p.m., Trump didn’t slow down.
“I have to tell you that the fire marshal, they turned away thousands of people, they turned away thousands of people,” Trump said.
This is a common refrain for the candidate, intended to be a sign of his immense success—structures made for everyday assemblies and monster truck rallies just aren’t big enough to hold all of his fans.
In reality, the Trump campaign has made a habit of outselling the venues it hosts events in, an old optics trick—packed rooms and long lines, after all, look better than a crowd with holes in it—but it’s still very much a trick. It’s why people across the country with (free) tickets to see the candidate have frequently been left waiting outside for hours instead.
It’s a testament more to the campaign’s immaturity than its popularity.
Criticizing Clinton for her rhetoric on the VA, Trump said he has “raised a lot of money” for vets. He neglected to mention that he only donated the $1 million he promised in February, four months later, after reporters questioned him relentlessly about his failure to do so, and after lying about having done so.
Trump then said, “We’re gonna build the wall and Mexico’s gonna pay for the wall,” a reliable applause line he’s used since the beginning of his candidacy, although he has never explained how he plans to convince Mexico to do this, or offered any evidence that Mexico would be willing to do this.
Next, he told a story about his “friend” who “builds massive plants, among the biggest in the world” and, having found it impossible to turn a profit in America, is doing business in Mexico, which this friend calls “the eighth wonder of the world.”
Trump provided no details about who this friend who surely exists is or when this conversation with this real friend occurred. His spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, did not respond when asked for this information.
He decried outsourcing, not mentioning that his own Trump-branded merchandise is made in other countries and that he recently filed a petition for 78 visas to staff his resorts with foreign workers.
“We’re not safe,” he then said, stoking fear of violence even though violent crime—murders, rapes, robberies, assaults—is down considerably from 2008.
He went on to claim that Syrian refugees who come to America are unknown entities. “We have no idea who they are,” he said, which is false. The screening process for refugees is rigorous and can take years.
“You know, they stole our passport machine,” Trump then said, referencing—and bungling—a December intelligence report that said ISIS may have obtained the technology to manufacture passports. The report did not say the “passport machine” was American and that ISIS had stolen it from us but that it was a Syrian passport printing device.
He pivoted to politics, and back to the primary. “If I would’ve spent two more days here in Ohio I would’ve won,” he said. Trump lost there to the governor, John Kasich, by more than 11 points, more than 200,000 votes. To have made up for that in two days of campaigning, he would’ve needed to take a few dozen school gymnasiums hostage with a hairspray canister.
When he took a few questions from the audience, things got even murkier.
One man wanted to know what Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare is. Trump responded by first saying that what’s more important is the military, and he will rebuild the military. He then said he has a plan to repeal the health care law, but he never got around to explaining what the plan entails.
“We’re gonna have plans now that we can’t even talk about,” he said. He claimed his plan would at once be less expensive than the current law and cover everyone, which sure sounds like a public option, something favored by liberals. “We have something coming that’s gonna be great,” he said.
After that, he took some time to talk to Sean Hannity on Fox News, pre-taped for the 10 p.m. hour and remote from Harrisburg. “We have thousands of people who won’t be able to get in tonight,” Trump said. He downplayed his campaign against the Khan family and allowed Hannity to conflate the issue with Trump’s policy on Syrian refugees. “She will appoint justices that will make our country Venezuela,” he said of Clinton.
And then he was back onstage.
“They sent away over 5,000 people outside!” he said, which was not true, and again, on a much smaller scale, a manufactured event by the campaign.
He claimed Pennsylvania’s manufacturing decline “was caused by Hillary Clinton’s policies.” Clinton, a former first lady, senator from New York, and secretary of state, never created policy for the state of Pennsylvania. There’s a valid argument to make that Clinton’s outsize role in her husband’s administration makes her partially culpable for and responsible for both the bad and good that came of his time in office—it comes into particularly sharp relief on gay marriage—but to lay the blame for an entire state’s economic decline entirely at her feet is disingenuous.
Trump then mocked other politicians for using a teleprompter during their speeches. He did not address his frequent use of a teleprompter these days.
And then things went really off the rails, not that they were on very tightly to begin with.
Discussing Bernie Sanders’s dour expression at the Democratic National Convention, Trump said it was because “he made a deal with the devil.”
Then he took things a little further.
“She’s the devil,” he said of Clinton. “He made a deal with the devil.”
Asked if Clinton is the antichrist, or if the campaign has any response to Trump labeling her the devil, a spokesperson for Clinton did not respond.
Trump then claimed, “I don’t know Putin, by the way,” although in the past, he claimed the opposite.
During a Republican primary debate, Trump said, “I got to know him very well.” He’s since clarified that he doesn’t think they’ve ever met in real life, and he doesn’t know what it means to know someone very well, like he said he knew Putin.
There were more innocuous lies, of course, like when Trump told the crowd in Pennsylvania, “I got along with everybody,” or when he claimed, “so many people have said this is one of the greatest movements in the history of American politics,” without specifying which people said that, or when.
“We have 6,000 people outside who’ve been forced to leave!” he said again, despite that not being true.
And then he claimed an unnamed “liberal writer” told him it doesn’t matter if he wins, he’ll go down in history nevertheless.
“I could name 50 companies that moved out of Pennsylvania and moved to Mexico and other places,” Trump said.
Asked to provide a list of those companies, his campaign did not respond.
Trump then settled into a plush leather chair the color of marshmallow on his private Boeing 757. On the headrest, stenciled in gold, was the Trump seal. He smiled for the camera, holding the finest silverware as he prepared to slice into a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The half-empty bucket rested on a copy of The Wall Street Journal and some handwritten notes.
With his mouth full of fast-food poultry and his hands gripping a knife and fork, for a blissful few moments, Donald Trump told no lies at all.