Over the summer, Donald Trump published a tweet that appeared to quote House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying, "House Republicans support the President on Tariffs with Mexico all the way, & that makes any measure the President takes on the Border totally Veto proof. Why wouldn't you as Republicans support him when that will allow our President to make a better deal."
The quote struck me as interesting, so I went looking for it, eager to get a sense of the context. There was, however, a problem: McCarthy didn't use the words the president attributed to him. The House GOP leader used some related rhetoric during a Fox News interview, but Trump chose to simply add words and phrases he liked, and then presented them to the public as if McCarthy's quote were accurate. It wasn't.
Alas, it wasn't an isolated incident. The New York Times reported the other day that the president, who doesn't seem to fully appreciate how quotation marks work, often misquotes his allies.
Mr. Trump has made a habit of injecting his own words into the comments of people he sees on television and then publishing them as direct quotes on Twitter, where he has more than 67 million followers. In some instances, he simply omits a part of the quote he doesn't like. [...]Not all of Mr. Trump's misrepresentations come from watching TV. Sometimes he attributes something to a private conversation that may not have ever occurred.
People rarely contradict the president's misleading quotes, in part because they fear Trump and his machine, and in part because he'd probably respond with additional misleading quotes.
At face value, this may seem underwhelming. The president's record of brazen dishonesty, making up conversations, and unfamiliarity with American grammar are well documented, and the bogus quotes he publishes are a fairly small part of a larger phenomenon.
But something Trump argued last week, in reference to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), put the issue in a different light.
In case anyone's forgotten, a few months ago, during a congressional hearing, Schiff paraphrased Trump's July 25 phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It was a clumsy misstep for the Intelligence Committee chairman, but it was also wholly unimportant and inconsequential.
Except in Trump's mind, the paraphrase was worthy of prosecution -- possibly for treason.
"He said, 'This is what he said.' But I never said it," the president told reporters at a White House event last week, adding, "He took a statement and totally made it up. It was a lie. It was a fraud. And you just can't do those things."
Trump does "those things" all the time, never correcting the record, without a second thought.