President Trump has never been a details guy when it comes to politics. But even for him, the last few days have been brutal.
On major issues over which Trump is currently presiding — the hurricane in Puerto Rico, the special election in Alabama and the growing controversy over his Cabinet secretaries' private travel — the president has in recent days misstated and apparently been unaware of very basic facts.
Here's a rundown:
1. Before a meeting with the Ukrainian president Thursday, Trump said that Puerto Rico had been hit with a Category 5 hurricane. “It got hit as a five — Category 5 storm — which just literally never happens.” It didn't in this case either. Hurricane Maria was actually a strong Category 4 when it made landfall on Puerto Rico. (It had been a Category 5 when it hit other islands.)
2. At a special election rally Friday night for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), Trump said Alabama had sheltered 17 million victims of recent hurricanes. The Post's Jenna Johnson noted that this number “seemed high given that the state has fewer than 5 million residents and that nearby Florida has 20.6 million residents.”
3. On Sunday, Trump was asked about the private travel of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and he didn't seem to have the first clue about it:
Q: Any comment on your Cabinet secretaries’ flights? Charter flights? Private travel, Mr. President? Should they be using charter flights at the taxpayers’ expense?
A: Who did?
Q: Your treasury secretary, Secretary Mnuchin. HHS Secretary Price.
A: Oh, I don’t think he took the flight. I think if you check your records, he didn’t take the flight. Why don't you check your records before you —
Q: He took a flight from New York back to D.C.
A: Why don’t you check your records before you make a statement. As I understood it — I don’t know much about it — I haven’t heard about it, but I understand he never took that flight.
Q: He flew from New York back to D.C. and HHS Sec. Price also —
A: You’ll have to ask him about that. I don’t know. (Crosstalk) As far as Sec. Price is concerned, that’s different. We’re looking into it.
Q: Do you respect the investigations of these [inspectors general]?
A: Always. Always. Thanks very much.
What? Trump seemed to be oscillating between denying his secretaries took such flights — despite it not being a matter of debate — and saying he knew nothing about the matter.
4. During a call-in to an Alabama radio show Monday morning, Trump twice misstated Strange's opponent's name as “Ray,” when it's in fact Roy Moore. “Ray will have a hard time" in the general election, Trump said. “If Luther wins, the Democrats will hardly fight. If Ray wins, [Democrats] will pour in $30 million.”
When the host pointed out that Trump had flubbed Moore's first name, the president said it was “not a good sign” that the president didn't even know his name. Indeed.
Trump has never been judicious with facts — hence his 1,000-plus false claims as president — but these are more than flubs of minor details; these are three issues that should command the president's attention right now. It's becoming clear that his response to the utter devastation in Puerto Rico could be among the most important moments in his presidency, yet he didn't even know how strong the storm was that hit the island. With Florida and Texas dealing with their own hurricane recoveries, Trump seemed to invent a stat about Alabama's role in that process. Facing a potentially troublesome situation over Cabinet secretaries' private travel — inspectors general have become involved in both Mnuchin's and Price's cases — it seemed as though Trump hadn't even heard about it. And despite feeling the Alabama race is important enough to warrant a presidential visit, Trump somehow doesn't know the other candidate's name.
Presidents have a lot on their plates, and this weekend was a whirlwind of headlines. Mistakes and misstatements can happen. But often Trump doesn't even seem to be trying to study up on the things that could come to define his presidency. Trump was able to spend much of the weekend stoking a culture war with the NFL, but he doesn't seem to have taken the time to understand the basics of a major natural disaster and a potential scandal in his administration.
That doesn't seem to be a recipe for success.