Donald Trump had all kinds of curious things to say at a fundraiser in Missouri this week, but as the Washington Post reported, one of the more notable head-scratchers came when the president was describing gimmicks Japan uses to deny U.S. auto companies access to its consumers.
“It’s called the bowling ball test; do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what, the roof dented a little bit, and they said, nope, this car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible.”
No one had any idea what he was talking about. Yesterday, the White House insisted the president was kidding.
Hours after President Donald Trump told a group of Missouri donors that Japanese regulators were dropping bowling balls on American automobiles to keep them off the market, the White House insisted the president’s anecdote was just an allegory.
“Obviously, he’s joking about this particular test,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon, telling a reporter who said he’d covered the auto industry in Japan that Trump’s anecdote was merely “illustrative of creative practices” countries use to keep American goods out of their markets.
But the president, delivering the story Wednesday evening, offered no indication that he was joking.
Indeed, if you read the transcript, the only thing that’s perfectly clear about this story is that Trump most certainly wasn’t kidding. The president believes there are stringent Japanese regulations in place, including the “bowling ball test,” that American manufacturers struggle to overcome, creating an unfair advantage for Japanese auto companies.
Another White House reporter added that, according to a White House aide, Trump “frequently” mentions this bowling ball test in meetings, for reasons no one understands.
So, what’s going on here?
The truth is, no one knows for sure. The president, by his own admission, makes stuff up. To know Trump at all is to know he routinely believes fiction is fact, and trying to dissuade him with evidence is folly. If he wants to believe in the bowling ball test, then he will, even if it exists only in his imagination.
What many tried to figure out yesterday, however, is why in the world he’s convinced of this particular fantasy. Philip Bump explored a variety of possible explanations, including referencing a Nissan television ad – the president does love watching TV – in which bowling balls hit a car.
The odd thing is, there’s a kernel of truth lurking behind Trump’s nonsensical story. For years, Japan really has put barriers in place for auto imports. As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum noted yesterday, the Obama administration persuaded Japan to make it easier for American manufacturers to reach the Japanese market as part of the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Almost immediately after taking office, Trump killed the TPP. The Republican president has never really explained what it was about the TPP he didn’t like, though I’m sure Trump has his reasons. Whether those reasons are real is a separate question entirely.