On Friday morning, about 14 hours after his own White House essentially confirmed that he had called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries,” President Donald Trump got on Twitter to deny that he had used those specific words.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!”
Why the sudden reversal? It now seems he was just following orders from his favorite cable-news show, Fox & Friends.
“Let's talk about what everybody is talking about on the other channels and that is the language that the president used in that private meeting,” Steve Doocy said at the top of the broadcast. “Clearly it was a closed door meeting. Somebody leaked it to the press, obviously to damage the president and ultimately to derail what they wanted to talk about, which was immigration and instead just talking about the president and the language he used.”
“Yeah, look, it's not good language,” guest co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy added, “and for those people like myself who really support the Donald Trump agenda and think it's good for minorities i would say not helpful. It was harsh. But I think what he was trying to say is, look, we want the best and the brightest from whatever country they come from.”
Of course, that is not at all what the president, who was surely watching from the White House, said at all. Instead, he asked why the U.S. can’t allow in more immigrants from places like Norway. But so far, so good for Trump.
Then, Brian Kilmeade, of all people, decided to to give a rare, full-throated condemnation of the president on Fox & Friends.
“What the president said yesterday outlines, really gives his critics something to talk about because he comes out and acted like somebody who is not president of the United States,” Kilmeade said. “You can't talk in broad strokes about people in a disparaging way and expect people to say well, that's just him or you know he’s not racist.”
While Kilmeade did say, “people who know him know he is not racist” — a viewpoint that was hard to find on the rest of cable news this week — he added, “You can't just say, I want Haitians out. You can't say I want everyone from El Salvador out and Norway in.” Kilmeade called Trump’s comments “ham-handed” and just plain “bad.”
“The president, if he wants to get this deal done, which he does, and the spending bill passed, which he wants, he has to come out and if he doesn't want to apologize, clarify right away, before noon so can you move forward on substantive talks to help the country,” Kilmeade concluded.
An hour later, they were still talking about Trump’s comments, with Kilmeade again saying they were “not positive” and that he should “walk it back.”
“Well, he’s not gonna,” Doocy replied, laughing.
“Maybe he does,” Kilmeade, who clearly didn’t find the whole thing quite as funny, said. “Maybe this will be the time he does because we wants to get things done.”
It was just 22 minutes after that that Trump tweeted his denial. As Kilmeade predicted, it wasn’t an “apology” or even an admission of guilt, but rather an almost certain lie about what was said behind closed doors. It was apparently it the best the president could do at damage control.