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Why Trump thinks imaginary protesters aren't receiving imaginary checks

Why did Trump tell the nation - twice - that imaginary paid protesters haven't yet been paid? Because he saw a joke on Fox News that he didn't understand.
Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House
epa06417072 US President Donald J. Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, DC, USA, 04 January 2018. President...

If there's one thing that pretty much every political observer can agree on with this presidency, regardless of party or ideology, it's Donald Trump occasionally says odd things. Yesterday, however, he offered an especially odd head-scratcher.

On Twitter yesterday morning, pointing to nothing in particular, the president wrote, "The paid D.C. protesters are now ready to REALLY protest because they haven't gotten their checks -- in other words, they weren't paid!"

The obvious oddity was that there were no paid protesters, but his larger point was even tougher to understand. People who don't exist haven't been paid? What was Trump talking about?

It seemed possible that the president, who struggles to write well, simply wasn't expressing himself clearly, but a few hours later, during a brief Q&A with reporters, Trump said largely the same thing.

Q: Do you think the Democrats, on the other hand, will be energized because they saw the defeat of someone that they wanted (inaudible)?TRUMP: Yeah, probably. I mean, there could be. But, you know, a lot of those were paid protestors. You saw that. They were all unhappy because they haven't been paid yet. I've been calling it. They were paid protestors. That was professional. That was orchestrated, when you look in the halls of Congress, and you see screaming like that.... These are paid protestors.

Again, Trump was talking about people who, in reality, don't exist. There were no "paid protesters." There were organizers who helped rally activists, but the people "screaming like that" did so because they were expressing their genuine beliefs.

And yet, the president seemed quite sincere about the idea that these activists "haven't been paid yet," as if Trump -- who has a fair amount of experience hiring supporters and then failing to pay his bills -- had some kind of first-hand knowledge about the details of financial arrangements that exist only in his imagination.

Eventually, however, we came to learn why Trump was so confused. The Washington Post explained:

Trump sent his tweet out into the world at 8:32 a.m.... As some have noticed, this was just half an hour after his favorite morning show featured a discussion about the apocryphal paid protesters.The writer Asra Nomani was invited onto "Fox & Friends" to talk about various liberal organizations she says helped organize some of the Kavanaugh protests. (Though she didn't mention it, conservative groups do this as well; see the Obamacare protests a few years ago.)"It's not the individual protesters who are getting the money," Nomani explained. But she also said: "People have sent me lots of messages that they're waiting for their check."

In context, as Nomani later explained, she was being sarcastic about the activists waiting for their check. Her point was that progressive organizations played a role hiring organizers, but rank-and-file activists showed up because they wanted to, not because they were paid to.

The humor was apparently lost on Trump, who heard "they're waiting for their check," took it seriously, and scrambled to tell the public how right he was.

In other words, the president convinced himself that his silly conspiracy theory was true because of an obvious joke he didn't understand.