President Trump usually chooses Twitter as the forum for his most embarrassing moments – shooting his mouth off about political opponents, fellow Republicans and especially his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who left office with higher approval ratings than Trump could ever hope to see.
But this time, there was President Trump live and in living color again tripping over his own tongue in criticizing his predecessors as a way of spotlighting his own treatment of the families of those in military service killed in that service. Then, days later, he doubled down trying to explain his clumsy contact with the mother of a soldier killed in action.
Asked about his contact with the families of four soldiers killed this month in Niger, Trump said in a Monday news conference that he had written letters to the families of those soldiers and planned to call them, taking a bow for that plan. Of his predecessors, he said, “Most of them didn’t make calls.” He said Obama “did sometimes” but that “other presidents did not call.”
Those were lies of ignorance, perhaps, but Trump was wrong, and aides to former presidents were outraged.
One former Obama assistant called Trump a “deranged animal.”
In fact, both President George W. Bush and President Obama, as well as their predecessors, made a point of writing and speaking with the families of those killed in war. They often visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of the fallen often are taken.
A former Bush aide said the former president, whose father, President George H.W. Bush, was a World War II pilot, met with “hundreds, if not thousands” of family members of those killed in war. And President Obama’s visits with families were well-documented.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, weighed in on Twitter, saying, “POTUS 43 & 44 (Bush and Obama) and first ladies cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen and their families. Not politics. Sacred Trust.”
In his press conference, Trump seemed more interested in patting himself on the back than anything else. And, of course, in making a curt stab at Obama, with whom he seems obsessed. There was no reason for Trump to go so far off course in his remarks, other than his own lack of self-discipline, which leads him to embarrassment time and again, typically after he has been boasting about himself.
The difference this time is that the president insinuated something about his predecessors that was not true and that cast them in an unfair, unflattering light. His chatter was simply reprehensible, and typical of Trump, who seemed to double down on his mistake later by questioning whether Obama had ever called Gen. John Kelly, his chief of staff, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
It’s going too easy on Trump to say he is undisciplined. When surrounded by sycophants in his business empire, he could make all the tactless gaffes he wanted and there were no consequences. But now he speaks as president, and what presidents say matters. This mistake is going to linger in the minds of Americans more than the others.