Trump goes on a weird riff about acid — again

For his interview with Newsmax’s Greg Kelly, Donald Trump didn’t stray far from home. The two sat down in uncomfortable-looking, formal chairs in one of Mar-a-Lago’s self-consciously ornate rooms for a discussion about how inept President Biden is.

“We have a man that can’t talk,” Trump said of Biden. “He can’t negotiate. He doesn’t know he’s alive.” As a result, the former president concluded, “this is a very dangerous time for our country.”

All of this came shortly after Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton had destroyed some emails with acid — an assertion that is not only untrue but has also been debunked countless times over the past eight years. But it’s still lodged in his brain, somehow, and he is unable or unwilling to dislodge it.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

Because this claim is so old and because it has been debunked so many times (for example), we’ll just run through this quickly. In August 2016, after House Republicans investigating Clinton had stumbled onto her use of a private email server, former South Carolina congressman (and current Fox News host) Trey Gowdy announced that Clinton’s team had used free software called BleachBit to erase a hard drive that once contained her emails. (Messages determined by her attorneys to pertain to her government work had already been turned over.)

A few days later, the prepared remarks for a speech Trump was giving in Ohio included a promise that “important email records will no longer be deleted and digitally bleached,” a reference to the name of the software. But, during the speech, Trump went on a riff.

“Important email records will no longer be deleted and digitally altered, which is something they just found out two days ago,” he claimed. “Bleached, bleached. Expensive process. Why? Why? Thirty-three thousand emails bleached through a very expensive process. You ask yourself what’s going on?”

A few days later, the bleach (which chemists will note is a base) had become acid in a social media post. This transmutation was paired with commentary on the discovery that retired devices had been physically destroyed by her tech team — not an uncommon practice, and not one Clinton herself undertook.

From that day to this one, this has been Trump’s pitch.

Federal investigators “released Hillary Clinton. She hammered her phones,” Trump told Kelly this week. “She used, uh, all sorts of acid testing and everything else. They call it, uh, BleachBit, but it’s essentially acid that will destroy everything within 10 miles — I mean, what she did was unbelievable. Nothing happens to her.”

He went on to disparage Clinton’s husband, the former president.

“Nothing happens to Bill Clinton; he took it out in his socks,” Trump said. “You know, the famous socks case.”

This, too, is incorrect. Trump appears to be confusing a case involving a Clinton aide — Sandy Berger, in which Berger removed classified documents by reportedly stuffing them in his pants and socks — with Clinton’s storing tapes of some of his conversations in his sock drawer.

But let’s go back to the “acid,” a claim that is so ingrained in Trump’s rhetoric that it has percolated into the right-wing media universe more broadly.

In his most recent telling, the claim is very specific. Clinton used “acid testing,” or, I guess, “essentially acid that will destroy everything within 10 miles.” This is very Trumpian, the effort to take a minor detail and inflate it to apocalyptic proportions. Not only has debunking this claim not had an apparent effect, he is now so used to making this nonsensical assertion that he feels like the baseline misinformation isn’t enough for his audience.

This is common behavior from Trump, certainly, in the abstract and the specific example. But it is more fraught now than it used to be, given the extent to which Trump and his allies have focused on mental sharpness as a necessary qualification for the presidency. Americans are asked — as Trump endeavors in his conversation with Kelly — to view Biden as muddled and addled.

That has triggered some blowback, including from Biden’s campaign team, focused on elevating moments in which Trump himself seems to be confused. Just this week, Democratic lawmakers responded to criticism of Biden’s memory by compiling clips showing Trump misspeaking or misidentifying people.

Trump has long been indifferent to the truth, and he continues to be. This thing with the bleach, though, seems different. It’s an untrue thing that, first of all, makes no sense. It is also an untrue thing that lots of people have said, over and over, is untrue. It is an untrue thing that doesn’t even extend Trump’s point to any significant degree: You can make the same (misleading) point just with the hammers!

Yet Trump can’t help but say it. It’s a groove worn into his patter, and he offers it unbidden. It has achieved I-tied-an-onion-to-my-belt status.

This raises an interesting and (to Trump) unhelpful question. Which is more worrisome, a president who at times forgets the truth, or one who is relentlessly unwilling to acknowledge it?

Related Posts