President Donald Trump’s mind-bending debacle over Hurricane Dorian and Alabama comes to resemble the storm itself more by the day: unpredictable in course, lingering far longer than anyone hoped or expected, and ultimately disastrous.
There’s still no compelling explanation for why Trump has become so obsessed with the particular claim that he was right when he said that Dorian was headed for Alabama. (It was not.) Whatever the reason for his fixation, it has transformed an otherwise workaday gaffe—a simple, nearly harmless misstatement—into a far more dangerous assault on public safety.
As I noted last week—when the story seemed already to have reached the outer limits of absurdity, with the president apparently attempting to alter a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map with a Sharpie—the episode began when Trump tweeted that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” and said in a briefing that day that “Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be.” My colleague Robinson Meyer detailed all the ways Trump was wrong about the storm.
Trump’s gaffe did create some danger: The National Weather Service in Birmingham, reportedly besieged with frantic questions from the public, quickly tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.” The risk was contained, though. It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared, and NWS, a federal agency, had corrected Trump. All the president needed to do was acknowledge he misspoke, or was relying on outdated forecasts, or offer any other excuse. The whole thing should have blown over, so to speak.