Trump Killed the Whole Concept of a ‘Gaffe’

Watching this clip reminded me of the fact that in conversations about politics, we don’t talk about gaffes anymore.

The use of the word “reign” to describe the president’s tenure in office is a classic example of a gaffe. Kilmeade is getting roasted on social media for his insinuation that Trump is a king.

For politicians, a gaffe happens when they go off script and say something that sounds bad or can be spun to sound bad. The response is more often to ridicule, rather than attack.

In many ways, Mitt Romney was the king of gaffes. Who can forget the “binders full of women,” or “corporations are people too, my friend” or “I like being able to fire people?” During the 2012 campaign, Romney traveled to Europe and Israel in what became a gaffe-filled tour.

During his first trip abroad he called preparations for the Olympics “disconcerting” which miffed Prime Minister David Cameron, and then he was criticized for being “racist and out of touch” by Palestinian leaders when he claimed that “Israel was doing better than Palestine economically because of its culture.”

I suppose that you could call Romney’s remarks about the “47 percent” a gaffe. But it seemed bigger than that and might very well have been a major reason why he lost the election.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s comment about Trump’s basketful of deplorables was referred to as a gaffe, as was her talk about putting coal companies out of business.

The campaign and presidency of Donald Trump seems to have ended all references to gaffes. To the extent that the term refers to a politician who goes off script, how can he commit a gaffe when there is never any script to begin with? The most recent example of that began yesterday when the president tweeted that he would shut down the Mexican border immediately if Congress didn’t close the so-called “loopholes” in our immigration system. Here’s what he said today.

It is impossible to make a gaffe when you simply make shit up as you go along. He goes off script so often that hardly anyone takes the time to even notice these 180 degree pivots when they happen.

Beyond that, Trump revels in saying things that are offensive and outright lies. Calling something a gaffe implies that the person regrets what they said. This president is incapable of regret. So when people are offended or call him out on his lies, he simply doubles down with more.

It will be interesting to learn whether Trump has permanently killed the whole idea of a gaffe in the world of politics, or whether it is simply dead when it comes to describing him. I doubt that anyone is waiting with baited breath to get an answer to that question. But nonetheless, it’s worth noting how things have changed.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.