Is President Trump losing his marbles?
(Or did he not have a full bag to begin with?)
On Tuesday, with characteristic inhumanity, he insulted broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts on the occasion of her death: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well.”
On Monday, he declared that he “didn’t say that” he thought Iran was responsible for the attack on Saudi oil refineries.
On Sunday, he denied that he had said he would meet with Iran with no conditions.
Last month, he said, of the ongoing trade war, that he “never said China was going to be easy.” And, responding to the Texas and Ohio massacres, he said he wanted “meaningful Background Checks” for firearms sales; something he “never said” before.
There are just a few asterisks to attach to the above statements:
He did meet Roberts. At Trump Tower. In a nationally televised interview. (“Thanks for having us here at your palace,” said she. He replied: “It’s been a great honor.”)
He did suggest he thought Iran was responsible for the attacks, hours before denying he said it.
He did say at least twice, on TV, that he would meet with Iran with “no preconditions.”
He also had previously said a trade war with China would be “really easy to win” and that he wanted “powerful, strong” background checks.
This is the guy who claimed he has “one of the best memories in the world”?
Actually, he forgot that, too. “I don’t remember saying that,” he once declared in a deposition.
Maybe the president’s mind isn’t what it once was. Maybe he misrepresents past statements to get out of trouble. Either way, while the political world focuses on the lapses of 76-year-old Joe Biden, 73-year-old Trump acts as if his frontal lobe is made of Swiss cheese.
Take just a few others from this year:
He said of the de-nuclearization of North Korea: “I never said speed.” But asked seven months earlier about the pace of North Korea’s denuclearization, he replied: “Very quickly. Very, very quickly, absolutely.”
He said of his border wall: “I never said, ‘I’m going to build a concrete.’ I said, ‘I’m going to build a wall.’” But 10 months earlier, he stood in front of a (concrete) wall prototype in San Diego and said: “We’re looking very much at the wall with some see-through capability … and then solid concrete on top, or steel and concrete on top.”
He said of his oft-repeated claim that Mexico would pay for the wall: “Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check.”
But in 2016, Trump proposed to stop some immigrants’ wire transfers to Mexico unless “the Mexican government will contribute the funds needed to the United States to pay for the wall.”
The misfires, like Biden’s, are not necessarily a new phenomenon. In 2016, Politifact found Trump claiming he never said what he actually had said about wind farms, Jon Stewart, calling John McCain a “loser,” calling women animals, Marco Rubio, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Megyn Kelly, Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife, Lee Harvey Oswald, David Duke, Bill Kristol, violent supporters, nuking the Islamic State, arming Japan with nukes, guns and those with disabilities.
But the lapses have become more serious.
Of Obamacare, he said, “I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days. I have a long time.” Actually, he said, “we have to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare — so important.”
He claimed that “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election.” But, standing at Vladimir Putin’s side, he famously said: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
And now he “never met” Roberts? Then who was that talking with her in Trump Tower on ABC’s “This Week” on Dec. 5, 1999?
Twenty years is too long ago? How about 10 hours?
At 5:15 a.m. Monday, Trump tweeted that Iran stuck to “a very big lie” about a previous attack. “Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?” His meaning was unmistakable. But when a reporter asked him that afternoon to clarify why he thinks “Iran is responsible for the attack,” Trump replied: “I didn’t say that.”
Whether it’s deceit or memory malfunction, the consequence is the same: Friends and foes alike know that the president’s word is not to be taken seriously.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.