Following a string of particularly damaging controversies, President Trump let loose in recent days by taking steps to launch a global trade war, announcing he’d sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Unsurprisingly, the Trumpiness has been turned up to 11 in private as well. The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Politico obtained audio recordings of a closed-door speech to donors on Wednesday in Missouri, which featured some new Trump gems, and/or terrifying insights into how the president views the world. Here are some of the standout moments.
Trump Bragged About the Time He Gave Trudeau Made-up Facts About Trade
Trump recalled insisting to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau that the U.S. has a trade deficit with his country, though he had no idea whether that was true. Per the Post:
“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.
“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’
‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”
It’s no big revelation that Trump says things that are wildly false, and he actually told a version of the Trudeau story during a December rally in Pensacola, Florida.
In the Florida speech, Trump claimed he knew he was right because “we don’t have a surplus with anybody.” (The U.S. has a trade surplus with many countries.) The new twist in Wednesday’s remarks was Trump’s admission that he had no idea if what he was telling Trudeau was accurate. (“I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’”)
Trump’s assertion that he just happened to be correct is false. As the Canadian Press noted in December:
Statistics from the website of the office of the U.S. Trade Representatives — the very office handling NAFTA negotiations — paints an opposite portrait to the one Trump paints. It says, of last year’s trade balance: “The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was US$12.5-billion in 2016.”
That includes a large surplus in trade in services of $24.6-billion, mitigated by a deficit in goods of $12.1-billion.
Trump Revisited His Threat to Pull U.S. Troops Out of South Korea
During a tirade about how various allies are swindling the U.S., Trump alluded to pulling U.S. forces out of South Korea if they don’t give him what he wants on trade.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
During the campaign, Trump accused Japan and South Korea of not paying enough for their own defense on several occasions, and threatened to withdraw the 80,000 troops stationed there primarily to deter North Korea. As president, Trump backed off on talk of removing the U.S. military presence, but he has called on the nations to pay more for their defense.
Trump Agreed to Kim Jong-un Meeting to Stick It to His Predecessors
It seems Trump still doesn’t understand that he or any other U.S. president could have met North Korea’s leader at any time, as Pyongyang sees a U.S.–North Korean summit as a pinnacle of respectability. Trump mocked former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush during the speech, claiming “they couldn’t have met” with Kim. “Nobody would have done what I did,” he added.
He summed up his predecessors’ position on North Korea saying, “It’s called appeasement, please don’t do anything.”
Trump claimed his bellicose rhetoric and tough sanctions led to a breakthrough on North Korea, and said the South Koreans told him Kim had promised not to do any nuclear tests or missile launches until the summit takes place (as the Post notes, “That comment could not be verified”).
Trump also mocked the media for doubting his diplomatic genius “He’s going to get us in a war,” he said, imitating a news anchor. “You know what’s going to get us in a war? Weakness.”
Trump Laments “Bowling Ball Test” No One Has Heard Of
Trump claimed Japan uses a test that sounds physically impossible to pass to keep U.S. auto companies from selling their vehicles to Japanese consumers. Per the Post:
“It’s the bowling ball test. They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “If the hood dents, the car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible,” he said. It was unclear what he was talking about.
Trump Said Democrat Conor Lamb Won in Pennsylvania Because He’s “Like Trump”
Democrats can stop gloating about winning a Pennsylvania congressional race in a district Trump took by 20 points. In Trump’s telling, the important takeaway is that his rally for Rick Saccone significantly boosted a subpar-GOP candidate. From The Atlantic:
“We had an interesting time because we lifted [Saccone] seven points up. That’s a lot,” Trump said. “And I was up 22 points, and we lifted seven, and seven normally would be enough, but we’ll see how it all comes out. It’s, like, virtually a tie.” (It was not exactly clear what Trump was basing his conclusion of a seven-point boost on.)
Also Democrat Conor Lamb only won because he embraced Trump:
“The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,” Trump said. “He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’”
Lamb actually ran against the GOP tax law, but that didn’t stop House Speaker Paul Ryan from making similar excuses.
First Rule of Tax Reform: Don’t Call It Tax Reform
Trump offered some advice to Republicans: despite mounting evidence that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act isn’t going to save the GOP this fall, they should still run on the issue. However, they mustn’t call it “tax reform.”
“Do me a favor: Don’t call it tax reform. It hasn’t worked in 45 years,” Trump said he told people involved in the midterms. “You say you’re reforming taxes, that means taxes could go up.”
Trump recalled that he wanted to call it the “Tax Cut Cut Cut” plan.
“They thought it sounded a little hokey and called it something else,” he said. “I liked the first one better.”
It’s not clear if Trump believes the many outlandish things he said on Wednesday, or if he’s giving us all the Trudeau treatment. Either way, it’s not good.