As is so often the case at the White House, reporters attending an event focused on American manufacturing preferred to ask President Trump about a somewhat different subject. With controversy swirling around Trump after he suggested that progressive Democrats critical of him should “go back” to where they came from — a phrase with a fraught history — reporters pressed the president on what he meant and who he was targeting.
Somewhat unusually, though, Trump was ready. As The Washington Post’s David Nakamura pointed out, as Trump transitioned to take press questions, he pulled notes from his pocket and glanced at them occasionally as he spoke.
Post photographer Jabin Botsford was there and took photos of Trump as he transferred the notes into and out of his jacket pocket. In doing so, Botsford captured much of what the notes contained: reminders to the president of points he wanted to hit.
We’ve re-created those notes below. All typos are in the original, and all underlining is original. Obscured words are indicated with a [?].
What the notes said
At the top, handwritten:
- This is greatest country in the world
- In the case of Ohmar — we saved her from a dangerous situation in Somalia.
- She came here at 10 years old and is now a Congresswoman. That could ONLY happen in America.
- It’s so SAD that these women have a record of saying anti-Semitic and anti-American things all the time.
- It’s actually DANGEROUS — because it seems like they hate America.
- My point was if you are not happy here, you can leave. Handwritten: HOLLYWOOD [?]
- They want America to be SOCIALIST and th[?][?] happen.
- EVERY time we talk about low unemployment [?] people — they say Racism.
- Now the even call Nancy Pelosi a [?]
The notes, explained
Trump’s notes begin with those handwritten words, “Alcaida” and “some people.” They appear to be written in Trump’s handwriting.
These appear to be references to two comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that gained traction in the conservative media. “Alcaida” is probably a phonetic spelling of “al-Qaeda,” referring to comments Omar made about how a college professor said the name of the terrorist group with a certain added emphasis in order, she argued, to make it seem more menacing. “Some people” refers to comments Omar made at a fundraising event in which she said, of the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that because “some people did something . . . all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” This comment was the focus of an infamous tweet from Trump in which he juxtaposed Omar with images of the World Trade Center burning in 2001.
We know Trump was referring to these incidents because he mentioned both in his remarks.
“When I hear people speaking about how wonderful al-Qaeda is,” he said, “when I hear people talking about ‘some people’ — ‘some people’ with the World Trade Center — ‘some people’ — no, not ‘some people.’ Much more than ‘some people.’ ”
The typewritten notes focus on Omar. “We” — the United States, presumably — saved Omar from a “dangerous situation” in Somalia, a reference to her immigrating to the United States as a child refugee. (The Omar family didn’t come directly from Somalia but instead via Kenya.)
The notes then expand to include the other Democrats who were apparently the focus of his tweets, a group that he called “this group of four people” in his comments. Along with Omar, Trump was referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
“These women have a record of saying anti-Semitic and anti-American things all the time,” the notes read, though that’s obviously untrue. On Monday, we compared their comments with Trump’s comments about the United States. While the group advocates progressive policies that Trump and his supporters may think run in opposition to their idealized America, there aren’t clear examples of their disparaging the country.
You can see that further on in Trump’s notes, when he claims that the women want America to be “SOCIALIST” — an example, it seems, of where he thinks they are “anti-American.” Recent polling from Gallup found that 43 percent of Americans think some form of socialism in the United States would be a “good thing.” Republicans, though, are much more hostile to the concept.
Trump’s prepared rhetoric went further, though, declaring it “DANGEROUS” that the Democrats may “hate America.” This mirrors comments made last week by Tucker Carlson of Fox News, focusing on Omar and highlighting criticism, which she had offered at an event, of racial disparities in the United States.
This is notably a stronger claim than saying the women make “anti-American” remarks, which, again, is itself unfounded.
During his comments, Trump repeatedly insisted that the suggestion in his tweet that the women “go back” to where they came from — a baffling suggestion since three were born in the United States — was simply a sort of updated “love it or leave it” line. It wasn’t, of course; it was intentionally if indirectly disparaging Somalia in particular. This is not the first time he has offered negative opinions of an African country.
(It’s not clear what the handwritten “Hollywood” note means. Trump didn’t mention Hollywood in his remarks.)
At the bottom of his notes, Trump has a response to the use of “racist” to describe his tweets. He appears to note that every time he mentions low black unemployment, the response is that he’s racist. (This is not something I have observed.) He also has a note about how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had been described as racist by the four Democrats — a distorted claim referring to a comment Ocasio-Cortez made about feeling disrespected by Pelosi.
What’s remarkable about the notes, above all else, is that they are littered with untrue or misleading claims about Omar and what the women have said. The notes, in essence, prepared the president to respond to criticism about his disparagement of the women by offering exaggerated claims about what they had said and done.
It’s also remarkable that, for all of his practice in disparaging his opponents, he needed a crib sheet to do so Monday.