Others might disagree with his self-assessment. This weekend, Trump managed to insult a venerated military veteran, mangled the name of a wildfire-scarred town that he had just left, confused the president of Finland by making strange comments about leaf raking and, like a grade-schooler, attempted to taunt a critic in Congress with a naughty play on his name. All in just 48 hours.
The weekend kicked off with Trump’s bizarre comments about raking leaves. Touring California communities that have been decimated by the deadliest fires in the state’s history, Trump told reporters on Saturday that he had recently been talking to the president of Finland. “He called it a forest nation,” Trump said, referring to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, “and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem."
As The Washington Post’s Avi Selk pointed out, Trump had made similar remarks on Friday before his California trip, telling Fox News Sunday: “I was watching the firemen the other day, and they were raking areas. They were raking areas! They’re raking trees, little trees like this — nut trees, little bushes, that you could see are totally dry. Weeds! And they’re raking them. They’re on fire.”
The remarks provoked a fair amount of head-scratching, as Finland’s forestry-management practices are not ordinarily considered germane to the issue of wildfire suppression in the arid West. Niinisto was no less baffled: While he had discussed forest management with Trump, he told the Associated Press, leaf raking had not entered the conversation. Meanwhile, bemused Finns clarified that they didn’t actually spend their spare time raking up leaves in the nation’s forests, and responded with a hashtag: #MakeAmericaRakeAgain. Some posted humorous photos of their rakes.
As The Post’s Rick Noack reported, experts believe there may be “too few” fires in Finland, which maintains one of the world’s most successful wildfire strategies thanks to controlled burns of the forest floors.
In California, Trump seemed unsure of the name of the place he traveled across the country to visit. Trump twice referred to Paradise, Calif., which has seen some of the worst devastation from the fires, as “Pleasure” during a Saturday news conference.
“If you’re watching from New York or you are watching from Washington, D.C., you don’t really see the gravity of it,” he told reporters. “As big as they look on the tube, you don’t see what’s going on until you come here. And what we saw at Pleasure, what a name right now. But we just saw, we just left Pleasure —”
“Paradise,” interjected a slew of officials.
“Paradise,” Trump confirmed, then moved on.
The error, some critics argued, demonstrated a lack of interest in the natural disaster. “He does not have the decency to even know the name of the town,” said one tweet that was shared over 4,500 times.
That was Saturday. On Sunday, Trump went from confused to contentious. During the same Fox News interview in which he gave himself an A-plus as president, he went after retired admiral William H. McRaven, dismissing the former Navy SEAL as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer.” He also suggested that McRaven didn’t work hard enough to catch Osama bin Laden.
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?” Trump said of McRaven, who led the 2011 operation that killed bin Laden. “You know, living — think of this — living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan, in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer, but living in Pakistan right next to the military academy. Everybody in Pakistan knew he was there."
McRaven had previously criticized Trump in an op-ed in The Post, writing that Trump’s actions had “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.” He responded to the president’s attacks on Sunday by clarifying that he had not backed any candidate in the 2016 election and saying that he had been a fan of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of the presidents he served under.
Trump’s comments second-guessing the timing of the raid at bin Laden’s compound, wrote The Post’s Paul Sonne and Philip Rucker, “risked alienating parts of the military community.” To make matters worse, they came just days after Trump skipped a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of World War I because of rain and then failed to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
“I should have done that,” he told Wallace in a rare moment of self-second-guessing after the host pressed him. “I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling, as you know.”
“I probably, you know, in retrospect I should have, and I did last year,” Trump said, “and I will virtually every year. But we had come in very late at night, and I had just left, literally, the American cemetery in Paris, and I really probably assumed that was fine, and I was extremely busy because of affairs of state doing other things.”
Finally, capping off the weekend, Trump blasted out a Sunday afternoon tweet mocking Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who had appeared on ABC News’s “This Week” and criticized the appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general.
“So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” Trump wrote. (Special counsels do not require Senate approval.)
The White House has not clarified whether the misspelling of Schiff’s last name was deliberate. “The office of first lady Melania Trump, who has championed anti-cyberbullying efforts through her Be Best initiative, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment,” noted Politico.
Commentators weren’t sure if they were looking at a typo or an insult. “That awkward moment when the President refers to a member of Congress as ‘Adam Schitt’ and no one can figure out if it’s because the President is horrible or just illiterate,” snarked Bill Palmer of the liberal Palmer Report.
If Trump was trying to turn Schiff’s last name into a derogatory nickname, he wouldn’t be the first person to do so. Before the president’s tweet, Trump supporters have repeatedly referred to the congressman, who is expected to be the next chair of the House Intelligence Committee, as “Adam Schitt” on Twitter, with the first instance dating to Dec. 12, 2016.
“Wow, Mr. President, that’s a good one,” Schiff fired back. “Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?”