According to the Washington Post fact-checkers, Donald Trump has told more than 12,000 lies since becoming president. But his lack of acquaintance with the truth started long before he was inaugurated. During the 2016 campaign, Salena Zito—whose schtick Gilad Edelman exposed here at the Washington Monthly—is the conservative reporter who coined a description of Trump that dominated headlines for days. To cover for his lies, she suggested that we should “take Trump seriously, but not literally.”
I was reminded of that when, over the weekend, several Republican lawmakers were asked about the president’s statement that China should investigate the Bidens. For Republicans who are constantly saying that the U.S. needs to take a stronger stand against China and their human rights abuses, that presented a difficult moment. Several of them responded by suggesting that we shouldn’t take Trump seriously. For example, here’s Marco Rubio.
This morning in the Florida Keys, @marcorubio was asked about the President calling on China to investigate @JoeBiden – see his answer ?@CBSMiami @MiamiHerald @alextdaugherty @MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei pic.twitter.com/3t1nTMWixn
— Jim DeFede (@DeFede) October 4, 2019
Senator Roy Blunt echoed those remarks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you comfortable with the president calling for Ukraine and China to investigate his political opponent?
Sen @RoyBlunt: “I doubt the China comment was serious … he loves to bait the press.”
(Trump’s comment was 100% serious and Blunt is gaslighting.) pic.twitter.com/VZ2WZPbKFD
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 6, 2019
After saying that Rubio got it exactly right, Representative Jim Jordan added: “You would think after … a few years of following this president you’d sort of understand how this guy communicates.”
Rep. Jim Jordan offers indirect response to @gstephanopoulos if it’s appropriate for Trump to comment for China to investigate Bidens: “You would think after…a few years of following this president you’d sort of understand how this guy communicates.” https://t.co/OYLvesRkYq pic.twitter.com/y48y8lBJOe
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) October 6, 2019
That is extraordinary. These lawmakers are playing with fire when they tell us that the president of the United States should not be taken seriously because he is simply saying things to inflame the press. To the extent they believe that to be true, not one of them expressed any concern about it.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy demonstrated what that means by delivering a touch of irony to the news that Trump has sold out the Kurds in northern Syria.
I don’t know why so many Republicans are so bent of of shape by Trump’s statement about doublecrossing the Kurds.
Clearly, he’s not “serious”.
It’s the media’s fault for believing anything he says is the policy of the United States, right?
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 7, 2019
There is a reason why, up until now, U.S. presidents have been guarded in their comments about world affairs. The words they utter come with the power of the commander-in-chief of the most powerful country on earth, and have always been taken seriously.
We all know that Donald Trump not only lies, he speaks and acts impulsively. On the few occasions when even he recognizes that he has overstepped the limits, he claims that he was simply joking. Both the president and his Republican enablers are suggesting that all of us have to decide when to take the words of the president seriously.
The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind. We can only hope that the day never comes when Trump has something critical to tell us and we all respond by assuming that we don’t have to take him seriously.