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Trump boasts of an achievement that's entirely made up

Trump believes he's broken the record for first-year bill signings. The boast is wrong, but it's also irrelevant for reasons he doesn't seem to understand.
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing from the south lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on November 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO /...

Last week, Donald Trump adopted a new talking point, which the president apparently sees as proof of his greatness: he "broke "Harry Truman's Record," Trump wrote, for "Legislative Approvals."

The phrasing was awkward -- in the United States, we don't usually refer to "legislative approvals" -- but I think he was trying to say he's signed more bills into law than any president since Truman left office 65 years ago.

Later that day, Trump repeated the claim when signing the Republican tax plan into law. "We have more legislative victories than any other president, not including this," he said. "But this is the capper because this is, again, the biggest tax cut, the biggest reform of all time."

It's actually the eighth biggest since 1918, and Trump doesn't have more legislative victories than any other president.

But he keeps repeating the line anyway. The president visited a Florida fire station yesterday and was eager to tell the first responders how impressed he is with himself. "You know, one of the things that people don't understand -- we have signed more legislation than anybody. We broke the record of Harry Truman." At the same event, he repeated the boast, insisting, "We have more legislation passed, including -- the record was Harry Truman. That's a long time ago. And we broke that record."

Politico noted how very wrong Trump's claim is.

[Trump] has now signed the fewest number of bills into law of any first-year president dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, according to a recent report from the website GovTrack. [...]And, according to GovTrack, Trump has signed fewer bills at this point in his presidency than George W. Bush had -- and less than half as many bills as Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush had at this point.

It's a problem, of course, that the president keeps running around bragging about an accomplishment that doesn't exist, but in this case, it's not the only problem.

What Trump doesn't seem to appreciate is the fact that he's not only wrong, he's also pointing to the wrong metric: raw bill totals aren't evidence of presidential greatness.

For example, every president, including this one, approves plenty of ceremonial measures and minor bureaucratic tweaks. Signing lots of them is not, at face value, an impressive feat. What matters is the value and significance of legislation, not the number of bills themselves. (If I have four dollar bills, and you have a 20 dollar bill, it'd be odd for me to say, "I have more money than you, because I have four times as many pieces of currency.")

What's more, as we discussed over the summer, presidents are remembered for their accomplishments, not the number of bill-signing ceremonies they hosted. Trump's boast is wrong, but it's also irrelevant for reasons he doesn't seem to understand.

So why does he keep repeating the bogus claim? It probably has something to do with the president's frustration with his woeful public standing. Indeed, when Trump was bragging at the firehouse yesterday, the phrase that stood out for me was, "People don't understand."

Trump is convinced of his own greatness, so he's apparently searching for a talking point that will help Americans "understand" the scope of his awesomeness. It's not going well.