Trump forgets a key rule: don't make up discussions with real people

Last year, Trump made up an imagined conversation with the prime minister of India. Yesterday, he did it again.
Image: Donald Trump, Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, speaks during a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, on Aug. 26, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP file

At a White House event yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump about his concerns regarding border tensions between India and China. The president briefly reflected on his belief that "they like me in India," and his affection for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before answering the question.

"They have a big conflict going with India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people. Two countries with very powerful militaries. And India is not happy, and probably China is not happy. But I can tell you, I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He's not -- he's not in a good mood about what's going on with China."

Reuters reported this morning that this conversation apparently did not occur in reality.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump about the south Asian nation's military standoff with China, a government source said on Friday, after Trump suggested Modi was upset about border tension.

"There has been no recent contact between PM Modi and President Trump," a government source said. "The last conversation between them was on April 4, on the subject of hydroxychloroquine."

A report in The Hindu added officials in India were particularly "taken by surprise" when Trump reflected publicly on Mondi's "mood," despite the fact that the two had not spoken.

In other words, we're left with the very real possibility that the president of the United States, who has a habit of describing the details of conversations that only occurred in his mind, made up a discussion with the prime minister of India.

Or more specifically, he made up a discussion with the prime minister of India again.

Last summer, Trump welcomed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Oval Office, and the American president was asked about possibly playing a diplomatic role in Kashmir. Trump told a curious story about Modi personally inviting him to help oversee negotiations.

"I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject," the Republican asserted. "And he actually said, 'Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said, 'Where?' He said, 'Kashmir.'" Trump went on to say that Modi "asked" him to help resolve the conflict.

As we discussed at the time, the story was impossible to accept at face value: India has never wanted outside involvement on Kashmir, and the idea that its prime minister would reach out directly to this American president -- an easily confused amateur who knows nothing about the dispute -- and ask him to serve as a mediator, seemed bizarre.

Soon after, officials in India delicately made clear that Trump's tale wasn't even close to being true.

Less than a year later, an eerily similar story has unfolded.

This matters to the extent that Trump really shouldn't do stuff like this. When our "very stable genius" in the Oval Office makes up conversations, it's bad; when he makes up conversations with prominent international leaders, it's worse.

The president generally understands this, which is why Trump so frequently points to his fascinating chats with "anonymous validators" -- people who probably don't exist, but who go unnamed so there's no way to check.

Once in a while, though, Trump forgets the rule, describes made-up conversations with real people, and is left looking ridiculous.