2019 Year in Review

Trump's Inartful Dodges

A look back at a year of presidential blame shifting


During a policy retreat in September, Donald Trump attributed his signature orange hue, which seems to be caused by the amateurish application of bronzer, to energy-efficient lightbulbs. "The light's no good," he told House Republicans. "I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst."

It was hardly the most consequential instance of Trump's blame shifting in 2019, but it was part of a pattern for a president who seems constitutionally incapable of accepting responsibility. Here are some of the more memorable examples from the last year.

Border Song. "The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security," Trump said in January. Yet it was Trump who caused the shutdown by insisting on money for his "big, beautiful wall" along the southern border—money that Congress still has not approved.

Hanoi Shuffle. After his February meeting in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly, Trump initially blamed Kim's insistence on a complete lifting of economic sanctions in exchange for only partial progress on denuclearization, saying, "Sometimes you have to walk." A few days later, he argued that Democrats had helped spoil the summit by inviting his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to testify while Trump was in Hanoi, which he said "may have contributed to the 'walk'"—i.e., Trump's own decision to end the meeting.

It's Not the Crime. While it turned out that Trump was telling the truth when he denied that his campaign had illegally conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, his public and private efforts to impede, curtail, or stop investigations of that question needlessly prolonged the "witch hunt" he blamed on Democrats and the "Fake News Media." Those efforts filled an entire volume of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's March report, which detailed obstructive behavior that made it look like Trump had something to hide.

18th Century Airports. During an Independence Day speech, Trump claimed the Continental Army "manned the air" and "took over the airports" during the Revolutionary War. He attributed the flub to a teleprompter failure that had forced him to extemporize.

Love Him or Leave. After Trump supporters at a July 17 rally chanted "send her back" when he mentioned Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), who was born in Somalia, he claimed "I felt a little bit badly about it" and "started speaking very quickly," which was not true. Trump's attempt to distance himself from the spirit of the chant was especially implausible because just a few days before he had suggested that "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen"—a reference to Omar and three other minority representatives, all of whom were born in the United States—should "go back" to the countries they "originally came from."

Do Us a Favor. To this day, Trump insists that his July 25 telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy—Exhibit A in the case for impeachment—was "perfect" and "totally appropriate," even though his request for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose him in this year's election, alarmed several administration officials. Instead of conceding that it was even a little bit unseemly to mix foreign policy with his own political interests, Trump has blamed all the fuss on hostile underlings, treasonous Democrats, "corrupt journalists," and even Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

First Resort. In October, Trump suddenly reversed plans to hold next June's Group of 7 summit at his golf club in Doral, Florida, after his advisers and congressional allies warned him that the appearance of self-dealing and self-promotion would provoke an easily avoided controversy. Trump blamed Democrats who "went crazy" and reporters who cited "this phony Emoluments Clause."

There was more, including Trump's claims that the impeachment inquiry and the Fed were responsible for economic developments more plausibly linked to his trade war. But I have run out of space, which is what happens when you try to catalog this president's inartful dodges.

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