Afterward, Trump’s advisers quickly jumped to his defense, dismissing his comments as “tongue-in-cheek” and insisting the President had been joking. In an interview that aired Monday, given the chance to say himself whether he was being serious, Trump dissembled, telling CBN News his comment was “semi-tongue in cheek.”
Then on Tuesday morning, speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One, Trump completely contradicted his advisers and flat-out denied his comments were a joke. “I don’t kid,” Trump said. “By having more tests we have more l cases. We’ve done 25 million. Therefore we have more cases.”
The incident is a prime example of a phenomenon that has been a hallmark of Trump’s presidency— time and again, he will say something so false or outrageous, aides and allies will try to explain it away by claiming he was joking, only to have Trump undercut their efforts by suggesting he was serious.
Other times, Trump himself will play the “just joking” card after saying something controversial.
Since the start of his presidential campaign, Trump himself has claimed at least 50 times
to have been joking or using sarcasm, according to Factba.se, a website which tracks every word uttered or tweeted by Trump and other politicians.
Sometimes it’s obvious when Trump is being sarcastic, like when he tweeted
about Rep. Justin Amash considering a run for president. But often it’s not, and the ‘just kidding’ explanation comes after the fact.
Examples of the President’s so-called jokes and sarcasm run the gamut, from suggesting
people inject themselves with disinfectant, to asking Russia to find Hilary Clinton’s emails. But the punchline is almost always the same — Trump only lets the public in on the joke later, usually after some embarrassing comment has garnered unwanted attention.
He was kidding, of course. Wasn’t it obvious?
Although the tactics and circumstances differ, Trump’s use of the “joking” and “sarcasm” cards is merely an extension of his habit of making misleading statements, sowing confusion and pushing false claims. And it puts the public in a tough position of having to gauge the President’s intent behind certain statements.
Here are some recent examples, beginning with a closer examination of Trump’s comments about testing.
Following the rally, an administration official told CNN
the President was “obviously kidding” about ordering a coronavirus testing slowdown. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted
Trump’s comments were “in jest.”
However, not only has the President made similar claims
before suggesting more testing isn’t necessary, he took to Twitter after the rally to clarify his belief
that it only looks like US has more coronavirus cases than other countries because “our Coronavirus testing is so much greater (25 million tests) and so much more advanced.”
Two days after the rally, when asked
to clarify his comments about testing, the President didn’t say he had been joking and instead doubled down on the idea that the US has such high numbers of coronavirus cases “because we do more testing than any other country by far,” which is in and of itself debatable given the lack of reliable, available data from some other countries.
In an interview, the President admitted
he told his administration fewer coronavirus tests would make the United States look better, undercutting McEnany’s insistence
his comments were “in jest.” On Tuesday morning, Trump did it again, tweeting
, “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” While higher case numbers can sometimes be attributed to better testing, experts say
recent surges are outpacing the increase in tests.
Coronavirus and bleach
The President has a tendency
to go off-script, which can sometimes come back to bite him. That’s essentially what happened on April 23, when he suggested
during a coronavirus briefing that “tremendous” amounts of ultra-violet light or disinfectant could somehow be a potential cure for the virus.
The comments prompted manufacturers to issue warnings
cautioning people against drinking bleach and other disinfectants. Poison control centers across the country reported
a spike in calls.
When asked about the incident the next day, Trump tried to correct the record, claiming he had made the comments sarcastically
. His explanation itself was filled with falsehoods
and other attempts to reframe his remarks. It was a classic example of Trump saying something confusing and potentially dangerous off-the-cuff, then playing it off as sarcasm when given the chance to explain what he was attempting to say in the first place.
The border wall in Colorado
In October 2019, when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and others expressed confusion
at the President’s announcement that the US was apparently building a wall in Colorado as part of its border-protection efforts
, Trump played it off as if he’d been joking. He tweeted
that he’d been kidding and that his comments actually referred to the people of Colorado benefiting from the border wall being built elsewhere.
Ukraine and China investigating the Bidens
Trump told reporters in early October 2019 that he thought both Ukraine and China should investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. With these comments coming barely a week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into the President, prominent Republican lawmakers jumped to his defense. House minority leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy
, Rep. Jim Jordan
and Sen. Marco Rubio
all promoted the narrative that Trump’s comments were not meant to be taken literally. But when the President was asked
outright whether he’d been joking, he refused to confirm that narrative, responding instead that any such investigation would be “up to China.”
A free Rolls-Royce
At a 2018 campaign rally in Arizona, Trump joked
about Democrats wanting to give undocumented immigrants a free Rolls-Royce. At a rally the next day in Nevada, Trump matter-of-factly claimed
Democrats want to give undocumented immigrants cars and drivers licenses. But when media outlets fact-checked
Trump’s statements about Democrats, immigrants, and cars, he lambasted
them in subsequent rallies for not being able to take a joke.
At a rally in October 2018, the President praised Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte who had assaulted
a reporter while campaigning the year before. Trump said
“there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” and added that “any guy who can do a body slam … he’s my guy.” The next day, House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise defended
the President’s comments as “clearly a joke,” saying
that Trump was just “ribbing” Gianforte. However, hours later when Trump was asked whether he regretted
his comments about Gianforte, he said
“not at all” and went on to call Gianforte “a great guy.”
China’s trade practices
Trump’s refusal to accept others’ interpretation of his intentions goes back to his first year in office. In November 2017, the President praised
China’s trade practices, the very tactics he had previously criticized as unfair. Speaking to business leaders in Beijing, Trump said “I don’t blame China” for taking advantage of the US, placing the blame for the growing trade deficit on past US administrations instead. Later, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told
reporters the President’s comments were “tongue-in-cheek,” only to be contradicted
shortly after by a tweet
from the President reiterating publicly the stance he’d voiced earlier that day.
“Russia, if you’re listening”
Most notably, the President has tried to rewrite history by claiming on multiple occasions
since he was elected that he was joking when he made his infamous “Russia, if you’re listening” request during the 2016 presidential campaign. CNN has fact-checked this alternative narrative several times before
and the facts clearly show
that when Trump made his plea for help obtaining deleted Hillary Clinton emails neither he nor the assembled audience were laughing.