He said his mention of keeping Carrier's jobs was meant to signify other manufacturing companies that might be tempted to move jobs outside the country — as Carrier long planned to do — in the future, and that he didn't even realize he had said it until he saw on the news that Carrier's workers expected him to make it happen.
"About a week ago, I was watching the nightly news," Trump said, adding an obligatory dig at the media. "But they were doing a story on Carrier. And I say, 'Wow, that's something. I want to see that.'"
Trump recalled a "handsome" employee who was interviewed for the piece who didn't seem worried about the company's plans to move production to Mexico.
"He said something to the effect, 'No we're not leaving, because Donald Trump promised us that we're not leaving,'" Trump said. "And I never thought I made that promise — not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn't make it really for Carrier. And I said, 'What's he saying?'"
Trump went on: "And they played my statement. I said, 'Carrier will never leave.' But that was a euphemism. I was talking about Carrier, like all other companies from here on in. Because they made the decision a year and a half ago. But he believed that that was — and I could understand it."
He was apparently referring to this Nov. 14 NBC Nightly News clip:
We're bringing jobs back to our country. We're not going to let Carrier leave.
Here's the thing: You can make an argument that Trump was perhaps speaking more generally and using Carrier as an example of the type of company that would no longer be leaving under his presidency.
But this is a statement he made while in Indiana — in front of people who had a very strong interest in taking him literally. They did, and yet he was apparently surprised by that. Any studied politician would know that if you are in Indiana and you say Carrier won't leave, you had better mean those exact words.
That doesn't bode well for the hundreds of promises Trump has made that some highly interested stakeholders may have taken very seriously. Zito's overall statement may hold true — that people read into Trump what they want and that they didn't take everything he said 100 percent literally. But for everyone who voted for Trump, you can bet there's something they hope he was being very literal about — whether prosecuting Hillary Clinton, building a wall, taxing outsourcers (which Trump pledged to do yet again Thursday) or repealing Obamacare.
There's quite simply no way Trump will ever fulfill all (or even most) of those promises, and perhaps his supporters will understand that. But many likely won't.
For the first time, the president-elect has been asked to cash a check that his mouth wrote. There will be more.