On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump hosted a meandering White House press conference, largely focused on his proposed border wall, in which the president unveiled a new talking point: his presidential predecessors privately agree with him about the medieval vanity project.
“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it,” the Republican declared. “Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
At a certain level, the argument has some appeal: Trump probably recognizes the skepticism surrounding his unpopular idea, but if he can convince people that other presidents agree with him, it may help broaden the support.
Asked if Clinton told Trump that he should have built a border wall, Clinton spokesman Angel Urena said, “He did not. In fact, they’ve not talked since the inauguration.”
Bush spokesman Freddy Ford also said the two men had not discussed the matter. And Obama, for his part, has not spoken with Trump since his inauguration, except for a brief exchange at George H.W. Bush’s funeral in Washington, D.C.
Obama has consistently blasted Trump’s pledge to build a border wall.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Obama explicitly rejected Trump’s claim, and soon after, former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement, “I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue.”
At this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Shocker. Trump was caught lying? It must be a day that ends in ‘y’.” In this case, however, I think there’s a little more to it.
On a daily basis, fact-checkers expose the current president’s falsehoods, but this latest example is unique: four former presidents independently exposed one of their successors for having lied to the public.
I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.
What’s more, there’s a moral to this story that Trump should probably understand. When he publicly describes made-up conversations – something he does with alarming frequency – he needs to avoid references to real people who can expose his nonsense.
As a rule, Trump understands this, which is why he’s so fond of quoting “anonymous validators”: mysterious unnamed people, whom the president swears exist, who we’re supposed to believe secretly tell Trump how right he is about the major issues of the day. It’s impossible to definitely prove that all of these people are fictional, which creates a rhetorical safe harbor for the Republican.
But when Trump describes private chats with people who actually exist, he runs into trouble because they have no reason to go along with his obvious lies.