Why Trump's bizarre airport claim may have been his gaffe correction strategy backfiring at the most embarrassing moment

President known to double down when he misreads his autocue, which could explain why he said George Washington's troops ‘took over the airports’ during War of Independence

Phil Thomas
Friday 05 July 2019 15:58 BST
How President Trump covers up his autocue gaffes

Donald Trump's surprising claim that George Washington's revolutionary troops "took over the airports" during the War of Independence could be explained by his method of correcting himself when he misreads his autocue - doubling down and trying to incorporate the mistake into his speech.

His bizarre ad lib, suggesting there were airports to seize more than 100 years before the first successful flight, came moments after he seemed to stumble over a phrase in his speech.

Describing how Washington's patriots defeated the British between 1775 and 1783, the president told crowds gathered to hear his Fourth of July address: "Our army manned the air." At that point he paused briefly, apparently realising he had misspoken, before continuing: "It rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do …"

Seemingly thrown by the mistakes, he then alluded to Fort McHenry, a Maryland stronghold best known for its role in a completely different conflict - the 1812 war with Britain.

It's not clear exactly how the speech was meant to read.

However, it is not the first time that Mr Trump - who is more comfortable speaking off the cuff - has stumbled while reading an autocue, only to try to bluff his way out of it.

His most common technique after getting a word wrong is to pause briefly and then add the correct word as if both happen to be correct, in the hope that he can style it out.

This can make for some odd pronouncements.

In a speech at the Values Voter Summit for conservative political groups in 2017, the president mixed up the words “future” and “furniture” – but clearly hoped that no one would notice.

Praising hardworking Americans, he said: “And we see it in the mothers and the fathers who get up at the crack of dawn; they work two jobs, and sometimes three jobs. They sacrifice every day for the furniture … and future … of their children.”

An address at the United Nations presented several difficulties which the president resolved in the same way.

Before the representatives of almost 200 countries he spoke of “authority … and authoritarian … powers”, and declared that “hope is a word … and a world … of proud independent nations”.

He invoked people who “struggle to reclaim their religious … and righteous ... destiny”; spoke of “reported … and repeated … warnings”; and declared that “tolerance for human struggling … and human smuggling … and trafficking is not humane”.

On occasion Mr Trump tries a different approach, improvising a route from the wrong word to the right one. At the US Coast Guard graduation ceremony in 2017, he mistook the word “standard” for “stranded” – but had a nautical digression on hand to try and cover his mistake.

“What standard … and really, if you think of it, when you talk about the great sailors and the great sailors of the world, we have them … but what stranded sailor doesn’t feel relief when those red racing stripes break the horizon?”

In his 2018 State of the Union address, he paid tribute to a Homeland Security special agent named Celestino Martinez – who had apparently already suggested he be called by the wrong name.

Mr Trump told the joint session of the United States Congress: “He goes by DJ … and CJ … he said call me either one. So we’ll call you CJ.”

In April, talking about the Mueller report, he mispronounced the word "origins" as "oranges" three times. Appearing to realise it wasn't coming out right he tried to clarify what he meant: "The Mueller report I wish covered the oranges – how it started, the beginnings of the investigation."

The former developer and reality TV star is famously loath to admit any mistakes, which could explain his need to try to cover his slips of the tongue – and as someone accused of making more than 10,000 false or misleading statements in his presidency so far he has gained a reputation for not being scrupulously attached to details.

But the ridicule he has faced over his latest verbal misstep – particularly embarrassing since it took place at a vanity event he has been planning since Bastille Day 2017 - suggests he might be better off just acknowledging the occasional error and moving on.

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