Gaffe Track: Trump Gets Catty

Rick Wilking / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Donald J. Trump, the classiest candidate

The gaffe: Discussing Ted Cruz’s opposition (in most cases!) to waterboarding, Trump heard a shout in the audience. “She just said a terrible thing,” Trump said. You know what she said? Shout it out because I don’t want to say.” She did it, but he decided to repeat it anyway. “OK. You’re not allowed to say—and I never expect to hear that from you again,” he impishly scolded. “She said he’s a pussy. That’s terrible. Terrible!” Meow!

The defense: Trump clearly knew he shouldn’t repeat it; he just couldn’t help himself. (Tuesday morning he said it was “like a retweet,” the forum he’s used to amplify white supremacists.)

Why it matters (or doesn’t): That moment isn’t what we’d call “presidential”—even LBJ had the common sense to keep this kind of thing private. In fact, it’s not what we’d expect from any adult in polite company outside of a frat house or a sporting event (but we repeat ourselves). But Trump seems to love using it. Will it hurt Trump? Maybe insofar as all of Trump’s outrageous moments aggregate into an impression of him as a clown. But the specific moment? Hard to imagine it will.

The lesson: Even when you’re just kitten around, you should paws to make sure you’re not hurting anyone’s felines.