This post has been updated with Trump’s reaction.
President Trump has made more than 5,000 false or misleading claims since being inaugurated. The question journalists often ask themselves is whether he even realizes it. On the rare occasion when he puts himself in a position to answer for his falsehoods, he has declined to defend them and blamed it on something he had heard. Trump’s aides have privately vented that he does not seem to be moored by real-world facts, even when they are explained to him repeatedly.
But on Tuesday, Trump got subtly called out for a whopper he often tells — and by his fellow world leaders, no less.
Appearing at the United Nations, Trump recycled a bogus claim he often makes at partisan rallies, in Fox News interviews and in formal settings: that he has accomplished more to this point in his presidency than his predecessors. The problem is this time he said it in front of an audience that might actually question it.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said.
The assembled world leaders gave a bit of an audible response, and Trump was caught off-guard.
“America’s — so true,” he said with a smile.
The buzz at that point became audible laughter.
Trump chuckled and said, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.”
Then more laughter, accompanied by some applause.
The laughter was not 100 percent at Trump’s expense. Some in the audience seemed to genuinely appreciate his quip about being surprised at the response. But the whole thing clearly started with audibly expressed skepticism about one of Trump’s more hyperbolic and fabulist claims. It was, at its core, about Trump making a ridiculous claim.
Trump’s response was telling, too. Just as he seemed genuinely taken aback when NBC’s Peter Alexander called out his electoral college number-fudging last year, he did not seem to anticipate anybody questioning his claims of nearly unprecedented success as a president. It was as if he never even countenanced it.
Later in the speech, Trump made another overzealous claim: that Germany is becoming “totally dependent” upon Russian energy — which is similar to claims he made at a NATO summit a few months back.
The German delegation’s response: more laughter.
The fact that world leaders laughed is kind of funny and frivolous. But it is worth emphasizing the sensitive diplomatic setting in which this occurred. There are cameras in the room that are recording all of this. They caught the German delegation laughing at Trump. The leaders have to know such reactions could be recorded or observed — and possibly even used against them by Trump. They did it anyway.
It is exactly, in fact, the kind of thing Trump once said should be unacceptable for a U.S. president.
Update: There’s always a tweet, Part 2 (a tweet from exactly six years ago today):
Another update: Trump claims (rather implausibly) that this was *intended* to elicit laughter. Except that he has said a version of it dozens of times, clearly not for laughs. And except that he said, after the laughs began, “I didn’t expect that reaction.”