U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi ranking member Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 16, 2015. 
Photo by Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Trump pushes laughable claim about a leading congressional Dem

Before we get into what Donald Trump said yesterday about Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), some context is in order.

Less than a month into his presidency, Trump declared at a White House press conference how eager he was to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings, and he was all excited,” Trump claimed. “And then he said, ‘Well, I can’t move, it might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.”

Cummings soon after explained that Trump simply made all of this up. “I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” the Maryland Democrat said.

The following week, Trump and Cummings did meet, and according to the congressman, Cummings told the president some things he didn’t want to hear.

Reflecting on the conversation, Trump seems to remember the meeting very differently. Here’s what he told the New York Times yesterday:
TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

NYT: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”
Moments later, the president thought it’d be a good idea to repeat the exact same anecdote for emphasis. “[Cummings] said, in a group of people, ‘You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.’ And then I watched him on television and I said, ‘Is that the same man that said that to me?’”

Effective liars learn early on that falsehoods are more likely to be believed if they’re somewhat plausible. Trump’s claim about Elijah Cummings is not.

If you’re not familiar with Cummings’ work, he’s a widely respected progressive champion and a fierce critic of the Trump White House. The idea that he’d tell the president, in any setting, for any reason, that he believes Trump “will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country” is about as likely as Cummings growing wings and flying around the Oval Office. Trump’s claim is plainly ridiculous.

So what did the congressman say? The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported:
[Cummings] explained in a statement to [the Washington Post]: “During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if … if … he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on.”

This is Trump’s fabulism in action. He hears a comment like that, lops off the all-important “if” part, and takes it as a compliment. And then he takes that perceived compliment and amplifies it by a factor of about four; “great president” becomes “great presidents in the history of the country.”

The question, as with all of Trump’s falsehoods, is whether it’s subconscious or deliberate – the “Stupid or Liar” theory. Either he doesn’t comprehend what Cummings was saying to him – which is a big problem in a president – or he chooses to completely misrepresent it – which is a big problem in a president.
For those concerned about Trump’s ability to see the world as it is exists, and not through a lens that exaggerates his own sense of worth, anecdotes like these are not at all reassuring.