It’s not always the blatantly untrue, the wildly invented or downright nutso things President Donald Trump says that get our attention here at Alternative Fact of the Week headquarters. The man is simply so committed to a version of reality that is wholly beyond the comprehension of the rest of us that he can point to something true in a way that is wholly false. He’s just that good.
Take, for example, this week’s campaign of mockery at former Vice President Joe Biden for a series of cringe-inducing (even by Biden standards) verbal blunders. There was the incident when he was talking to a group of minority voters in Iowa and noted that poor kids were just as smart as white kids. At another event, he claimed to have met with the Parkland school shooting survivors while vice president, even though the attack occurred well after he left office. He bungled a stump speech line, saying “we choose truth over facts.” He mixed up former British Prime Minister Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher. He referred to the recent mass shootings in Houston and Michigan, rather than El Paso and Ohio.
Mr. Trump pounced, tweeting, “Does anybody really believe he is mentally fit to be president? We are ‘playing’ in a very big and complicated world. Joe doesn’t have a clue!” Earlier, he said, “Joe isn’t playing with a full deck,” and “Joe Biden has truly lost his fastball.”
Joe Biden just said, “We believe in facts, not truth.” Does anybody really believe he is mentally fit to be president? We are “playing” in a very big and complicated world. Joe doesn’t have a clue!
It’s not that he’s the only one who’s wondering if the recent string of Bidenisms is more than a case of Joe being Joe. Some Democratshave been worryingabout whetherthey suggest he’s not quick enough on his feet to go up against President Trump in a general election campaign. The Democratic strategist David Axelrod used the “lost his fastball” metaphor several times in his analyses of Mr. Biden’s debate performances on his Hacks on Tap podcast (a great listen if you’re into politics), and his never-Trumper Republican partner in punditry, Mike Murphy, spent about 10 minutes of this week’s episode strategizing with Democratic operative Paul Begala about how Mr. Biden could somehow turn his malapropisms into a strength.
But Mr. Trump is most assuredly the last human on planet earth who has room to talk. This is the guy who urged Florida rallygoers in 2017 to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” a vague utterance that utterly baffled Swedes. He’s the one who bragged about a “massive landslide victory” in the Electoral College and even printed up red and blue maps to hand out in the Oval Office, despite the fact that his margin ranked 46th out of 58 presidential elections. He’s the guy who woke up one morning and tweeted that Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower. He’s the guy whose behavior so freaked out Rod Rosenstein that the former deputy attorney general reportedly offered to secretly record his conversations with the president to build a case for removing him under the 25th Amendment. He’s the one who sent his condolences to the people of Toledo after the Dayton shooting, and he was reading from a teleprompter. What the covfefe?
And that brings us to the thing that truly sets Mr. Trump apart when it comes to blurting out stuff that makes no sense. When Mr. Biden says something crazy, he corrects himself, apologizes for it and makes a joke. Not Donald Trump. After he tweeted the fragment, “Despite all the negative press covfefe” at 12:06 a.m. on May 31, 2017, his press secretary actually tried to claim that it was not a typo. “I think the president and a small group of people knew exactly what he meant," Sean Spicer cryptically assured the White House press corps. If Donald Trump had said something about the attacks in Houston and Michigan, his toadies would have insisted that there actually had been mass shootings there, and he probably would have visited hospitals where these phantom victims were taken so he could brag about the size of the crowd at his rallies and lie about the number who showed up for one of his Democratic rivals. (Yeah, that happened.) At last count from the Washington Post, President Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims since he was elected president, and he has admitted approximately none of them.
And that’s the difference. When Mr. Biden says something bonkers, it’s a gaffe. When Mr. Trump does, it’s an alternative fact.