An Egyptian news outlet reported on Saturday that traces of TNT were found on the plane's wreckage, suggesting that perhaps Trump was right. Other reports contradicted that, with officials saying that they hadn't received any formal reports from investigators.
This was all more than 120 days after Trump said with certainty that an explosion was the cause.
At a campaign stop in Colorado Springs on Saturday, less than an hour after the explosion on 23rd Street in New York on Saturday, Trump made a similar declaration. "I must tell you that just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York," he said, well before authorities had made any official announcement about the cause of the blast. "And nobody knows exactly what’s going on. But boy, we are living in a time — we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough."
This is a relatively minor example of a much bigger trend. Trump is eager to identify things as terror specifically because of that last conclusion: President Obama and Hillary Clinton are insufficiently tough on terror, which is why terror attacks occur. The more terror, the more need for being tough and the more need for Trump, the calculus seems to go. And in service to that, Trump is happy to be a step or two ahead of publicly available information. He conflates urgency of action with strength of action.
He also enjoys getting to say he was "right." He's repeatedly taken credit for predicting the results of the June Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, despite not recognizing the term a month prior. He's taken credit for predicting the 9/11 attacks thanks to a brief mention of Osama bin Laden in a book he wrote in 2000 -- a passage that can be seen as predictive only with a generous application of hindsight. He's said that he predicted the rise of the Islamic State because he suggested that removing troops from Iraq would create a vacuum in that country -- but he also called for removing troops from Iraq.
He took credit for his declaration about the New York bombing in an interview with "Fox and Friends" on Monday morning.
"What I said was exactly correct," he said. "I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news."
That's not how news reporting works. It is also not traditionally how the presidency works.
Trump has also been wrong, but he tends not to focus on those incidents. He declared that a man who rushed his stage at a rally in Ohio was linked to the Islamic State, which wasn't true. He's repeatedly claimed that neighbors saw the San Bernardino shooters assembling bombs before they attacked last December, which is unfounded.
During the "Fox and Friends" interview, Trump made a new declaration, which may or may not turn out to be accurate. Asked if he thought there was a forign connection to the suspect in the New York bombing, he said, "I think there is. I think there’s many foreign connections. I think this is one group, okay, this is one group. But you have many, many groups because we’re allowing these people to come into our country and destroy our country and make it unsafe for people."
The point isn't accuracy, it's rhetoric. He makes sweeping, vague and often contradictory statements that allow him to isolate bits of accuracy. He brushes aside instances were he was objectively wrong and celebrates moments when he can say he was right. He's less interested in presenting an objective case for the nature of the terror threat in the United States then he is in hyping that threat for political effect. He's far less interested in the facts than in the feeling, and if something feels like it might be linked to terrorism, Trump will apparently announce that it's terrorism.
It's a tricky line for a presidential candidate to walk. The biggest obstacle Trump faces in his push for the White House is that a majority of people don't see him as qualified for the job. When Quinnipiac University asked why they didn't view him as qualified, a plurality of respondents said it was his temperament -- which his instinctive tendency to turn news events into arguments for his candidacy seems likely to bolster. (Another recent example: His tweet about the killing of Dwyane Wade's cousin.)
What's the downside? Trump has repeatedly been fact-checked on the San Bernardino claim, and on his past "predictions" about terrorism, to no effect. It's been four months since he declared that the EgyptAir plane was blown up, and he's paid no price for jumping to that conclusion. With 50 days until Americans head to the polls, Trump is betting that his longstanding practice of hyping things that are scary will pay higher dividends than any newfound embrace of sobriety and caution.