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Trump claims he deliberately confused Haley and Pelosi: ‘It’s very hard to be sarcastic’

Republican front-runner insists gaffe was not only intentional but actually a masterstroke

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 15 February 2024 18:44 GMT
Trump tries to claim he intentionally confused Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi

Donald Trump has tried to claim that he intentionally confused Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi during a rally address last month when he falsely stated that his rival for the Republican presidential nomination had been in charge of Capitol security in Washington, DC, on 6 January 2021, rather than the then-House speaker.

The former president made the original blunder in New Hampshire on 19 January ahead of that state’s GOP primary – which he nevertheless went on to win – wrongly telling the crowd during an anecdote about the Capitol riot: “Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guard, whatever they want. They turned it down.”

The gaffe came a day after Mr Trump had confused Joe Biden with Barack Obama and prompted Ms Haley, whom he has nicknamed “Birdbrain”, to question his mental wellbeing, given that she was not even in DC that day, let alone responsible for its policing.

The mistake also provided an ironic counterpoint to the candidate’s repeated attacks on President Biden, whom he has derided as too old to run for the White House again at 81, even though Mr Trump himself is only four years younger.

But speaking at another rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday evening ahead of that state’s upcoming primary, Mr Trump insisted he had not made an error at all.

Rather, he claimed, he had knowingly mixed-up Ms Haley and Ms Pelosi so as to underline his contempt for both women, complaining about the subsequent adverse press coverage he received by observing bitterly: “It’s very hard to be sarcastic.”

He continued: “When I interpose – I’m not a Nikki fan and I’m not a Pelosi fan. When I purposely interpose names, they say he didn’t know Pelosi from Nikki.

“They make a big deal out of it and I say: ‘No, no, I think they both stink.’ They have something in common: they both stink.

“And remember this: when I make a statement like that about Nikki that means she will never be running for vice president.”

Mr Trump and his allies have a long history of claiming he was “joking” or being “sarcastic” in the wake of statements that provoke ridicule or outrage.

In 2016 while campaigning for president he urged Russia to find and publish emails that his rival Hillary Clinton had deleted. He told a rally: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." Amid the resulting uproar he insisted his words had been made “in jest and sarcastically”.

In 2020, after facing worldwide mockery for suggesting that putting sunlight “into the body” and injecting disinfectant could be a treatment for Covid, Mr Trump angrily told reporters that he was being “sarcastic”, although he did not explain why, or how his comments could have constituted sarcasm.

The same year his then White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said he had only been “joking” when he told a rally in Oklahoma that he’d ordered medics to “slow the testing down” during the ongoing Covid pandemic. This time he came back and insisted that he had not been joking, apparently believing there would be fewer cases of Covid if there was less testing for it.

He and his team also claimed he had only been joking when he said his predecessor Barack Obama was the “founder of Isis”; that law enforcement should beat up suspects; that Democrats who didn’t applaud him were “treasonous”; and that he was the “chosen one”, a comment made to reporters as he looked up at the sky.

Elsewhere during his South Carolina speech, Mr Trump called for President Biden’s impeachment, doubled down on his recent anti-Nato rhetoric and denied experiencing cognitive decline himself, despite slurring his words at one point.

He also boasted about doing “nothing” to alter the Second Amendment during his time as president – just hours after a mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade left one person dead and 22 injured, including eight children.

“Nobody took care of our Second Amendment, during that four-year period nothing happened with our Second Amendment,” Mr Trump bragged.

The candidate pledged to continue opposing gun reform, promising: “We will protect innocent life and we will restore free speech.”

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