Even as Hurricane Dorian roared up the East Coast on Thursday and hammered the Carolinas with dangerous wind and storm surges, President Trump refused to retreat from a related storm of his own making.
Over the last five days, he has repeatedly claimed that the life-threatening storm could have hit Alabama despite the National Weather Service’s assurance that the state could rest easy.
He even held up a crudely doctored map in the Oval Office that showed a hand-drawn black line extending the hurricane’s trajectory into the southeastern corner of Alabama.
“What I said was accurate!” he insisted in his first of many tweets on the subject on Thursday. Anything else, he added, was “all Fake News in order to demean!”
Trump later dug up outdated forecasts in an attempt to retroactively prove himself correct, and his office issued a three-paragraph statement from a White House advisor on Homeland Security saying the president had been briefed on the storm’s possible impact on Alabama.
It was a remarkable full-court press intended to shield Trump from having to admit that he had simply made a mistake.
No president likes to admit faults, and many have contorted the English language to avoid doing so.
President Reagan famously deflected responsibility for the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal in his second term, saying, “Mistakes were made.” President Clinton, no stranger to awkwardly worded mea culpas, said the same thing when asked about questionable Democratic Party fundraising.
William Safire, the late conservative writer, devoted a chapter to the phrase “mistakes were made” in his book “Safire’s Political Dictionary,” describing it as a “passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it.”
But Trump often goes further by trying to bend facts to fit his version of reality, unwilling to stop repeating falsehoods no matter how many times he’s corrected.
On his second day in office, he dispatched his White House press secretary to inaccurately claim that the crowds at his inauguration were the largest in history, despite photographic evidence showing they were smaller than in the past. Trump then boasted about the crowds while speaking in front of the memorial wall at CIA headquarters.
Trump frequently blames his predecessors for problems on his watch, insisting — falsely — that President Obama began the policy of widely separating migrant children from their parents on the border. The Trump administration began separating hundreds of families in 2017 and has continued the practice despite orders to stop from federal courts.
Trump also boasts that he is building his long-promised border wall — “the Wall is going up very fast,” he tweeted recently — although Homeland Security officials recently confirmed that not one mile has been added to the border barrier that predated his tenure.
In one of Trump’s most frequent false claims, he says China is paying billions of dollars in tariffs that he has imposed. Economists say U.S. importers are footing the bill and often passing the costs to U.S. consumers.
Sam Nunberg, a former Trump political advisor who helped launch his 2016 presidential campaign, says Trump has fixed views on trade no matter what the facts show.
“On something like that, you’re not going to convince him otherwise,” he said. “He knows what others will argue. He just doesn’t agree with it.”
Trump has displayed a similar intransigence in the scuffle over his Hurricane Dorian assertion.
It began Sunday when Trump mistakenly listed Alabama among the states directly in the storm’s path. The National Weather Service quickly tweeted that Alabama was out of harm’s way even though some earlier forecasts had suggested there could be some danger there.
It was a fleeting blunder, and it might have quickly disappeared in Washington’s hypersonic news cycle before Trump made sure it metastasized.
He lashed out at the media for covering his mistake and insisted he was “in fact correct.” Then he invited waves of ridicule from late-night television comics Wednesday by holding up the doctored weather map in the Oval Office and claiming ignorance of who had drawn the extra bump around Alabama.
Stephen Colbert said modifying the map was “an insane thing to do.” Jimmy Kimmel said Trump must “think we’re a bunch of idiots. I bet he thinks, ‘Hey, they elected me president — let’s see what other dumb crap they’ll go for.’”
More mockery flowed online, where critics used a black Sharpie — the kind Trump habitually uses to sign documents or dash off notes — to reshape reality. Stick figures suddenly filled the ranks of Trump’s inaugural crowd, and his fingers were lengthened to enlarge his hands. Another person drew a six-pack on Trump’s abdomen.
Government officials have been reluctant to contradict Trump. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, has refused to answer questions about its forecasts. Asked whether Dorian was ever projected to hit Alabama, a NOAA spokeswoman deferred questions to the White House.
The fracas has exasperated administration officials who would rather prepare disaster relief efforts than clean up after the president’s comments. Some responded with deep sighs when questioned about Trump’s doctored map.
Trump’s allies in the media rallied to his defense and suggested the president was being treated unfairly.
“This president gets the worst press of any president in the history of the republic,” Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News.
“Everything he says and does is cross-checked and scrutinized to reveal him to be stupid, uninformed or a liar.”
The president’s son, Eric, chimed in on Twitter to disparage media coverage as petty.
“I don’t think it’s beyond comprehension that Alabama was in the path had the storm not gone North,” he wrote.