Why does Trump believe there was political unity in February?

Trump insists the pre-COVID era was one in which "Democrats and Republicans were actually coming together" and there was "very little strife." Um, no.
Image: U.S. President Trump speaks to reporters as he departs for a trip to Florida from the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs for a trip to Florida from the South Lawn of the White House on July 31, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump addressed the Republican National Convention in Charlotte yesterday, and the president made a pitch that's been popping up more and more in his remarks lately.

"Everybody was doing well and we were actually coming together [before the coronavirus crisis]. You know success brings people together, maybe better than anything else. Success brings people, so many times they say we're divided. Well, we were very divided under President Obama, very divided. People have no idea how divided. They didn't talk about it as much, they didn't say it as much, but we were really coming together."

Trump peddled the same line to Fox News a day earlier, arguing, in reference to earlier this year, "We were doing incredibly well. There was very little strife, and actually Democrats and Republicans were actually coming together and then we got hit with the China virus."

Two days before that, the president told Mike Huckabee, "The country was coming together, because people, they ask, 'How do you get the country together?' Success, the country was coming together."

Trump used the same line two days before that. And two days before that. And the week before that. And the week before that.

All told, according to the Factba.se database, I count at least nine instances in the last three weeks in which the president argued, in apparent sincerity, that the United States was unifying -- behind his leadership, of course -- as recently as February. It was all going swimmingly before the pandemic sparked national divisions.

There was, Trump assures us, "very little strife."

Like everyone else, I can appreciate why the time before COVID-19 seems like ages ago. I can even appreciate why some memories may be hazy.

But all things considered, the president seems to remember February quite a bit differently than I do. It was, after all, February when a bipartisan group of senators voted to remove Trump from office at the end of his impeachment trial.

It was also February when the White House launched a "loyalty purge" within the administration, hunting for officials who were suspected of showing insufficient fealty to their leader in the Oval Office. Around the same time, Trump raised a few eyebrows by announcing on Twitter that he was embracing the politics of "grievance, persecution, and resentment."

February was also the month when the president and Attorney General Bill Barr pushed the envelope to the breaking point with the politicization of the federal criminal justice system, after raiding billions from the Pentagon budget to finance pointless border barriers.

It was the same month that Trump launched an ugly smear campaign against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and insisted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had engaged in a criminal act by tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address.

So why is it that Trump would have people believe the pre-COVID-19 era was one in which "Democrats and Republicans were actually coming together" and there was "very little strife"? My suspicion is, someone recently showed the president a poll that showed him trailing Joe Biden on matters related to national unity and divisiveness.

Naturally, if my theory is right, it led Trump to begin a not-so-subtle gaslighting campaign to convince everyone what a unifying leader he is -- or at least was before the pandemic. The trouble, however, is that the president's version of February bears no resemblance to everyone else's version.