Op-ed: Trump’s accidental truth flirtation

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, April 5, 2016 4:15pm
  • Opinion

Now that Donald Trump has decided to occasionally tell the truth, he might want to reconsider. It’s gotten him in all kinds of trouble.

The subject of abortion really twisted him in knots (more about his befuddlement further on), first with a not-to-be-deflected Chris Matthews on MSNBC, who persisted in asking Trump whether his calls to make abortion illegal meant that the person who got one should be penalized. Trump’s reluctant acknowledgement that he believes she should receive “some sort of punishment” sent the political world, to say nothing of the social-media universe, into a storm of epic proportions.

Never mind that his response made total sense; the bombs immediately started falling on him from all sides. Obviously, the abortion-rights advocates were slamming him, using him as a surrogate to attack the entire idea that society would deny a “woman’s right to choose.” But the anti-abortion forces also were horrified by his admission. They don’t particularly enjoy having the inescapable logic that of course females should be punished if terminating their pregnancy was against the law. In the perceptions battle, that might be considered harsh. It’s the doctors, they insist, who should face the consequences for what they describe as “murder.” Never mind that in homicide, the accomplice is just as guilty. Trump quickly did something he also never does: He beat a hasty retreat, racing out a statement that what he really meant is that the doctor should be prosecuted, not the female victim, who is somehow forced into the procedure.

Again, he tripped over his words on abortion a couple of days later. This time, the highly skilled inquisitor was John Dickerson, moderator of CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Dickerson was following up the Matthews controversy and asked whether the laws about abortion were among the many he’d change. Again, Trump tried to tread carefully. Again, he stepped in it: “At this moment, the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.” So, again, the anti-abortion leaders responded with such fury that he put out another sheepish clarification explaining he’d appoint judges who would un-set the laws.

Obviously, the Trumpster wasn’t enjoying his flirtation with the truth, so he made sure to weasel out with his usual tactical deceit: Both the Matthews and Dickerson interviews were chopped up to take his words out of context, Trump said. MSNBC and CBS quickly released transcripts to show that the segments were not edited at all. It was another of The Donald’s falsehoods that have served him so well, since his supporters don’t really care when he gets caught in lies. They adore his “telling it like it is,” even when he tells it like it isn’t.

But the abortion blunders, in addition to other statements made about NATO and even nuclear bombs that recently have earned him ridicule of late, might be revealing another truth about Donald Trump: Is it possible he’s just not very bright, or not as smart as he tells us he is? He went to Wharton, after all, but how many people do we know who went to prestigious colleges and are dumber than a stump? Yes, he’s clearly very wealthy. But there are lots of rich people who are dim lightbulbs.

It’s true that he’s succeeded in dominating the Republican presidential campaign and manipulating the media. But how much intellectual heft does that take? No doubt he’s a great showman, but there are a lot of clowns out there who are witless.

He’s had tremendous appeal for those who are so fed up they don’t want to bother with nuance. His appeals to bigotry don’t take brilliance. Any fool can spew hatred. Let’s give him credit. He has certainly dominated the American — make that the worldwide — conversation for months. But let’s not believe for a minute that he has the brainpower to be president. He’s way over his head. That’s the truth.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade