Gaffe Track: Bring America Back From the Dead Again

Scott Audette / 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 Trump

The gaffe: The Republican frontrunner was campaigning in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, doing his typical free-associational rap—mentioning that he’d gone to the University of Pennsylvania and so on. Mid-spiel he wondered “How’s Joe Paterno? We gonna bring that back? Right? How about that—how about that whole deal?” Yes, how is Joe Paterno? Oh, right—the legendary Penn State football coach has been dead since January 2012.

The defense: USA Today speculates that maybe he was referring to a statue of Paterno that had been removed. Sure, why not?

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Paterno, you’ll recall, was fired after a massive child-molestation scandal involving an assistant coach. Since then, there’s been some effort to rehabilitate JoePa’s legacy. Pandering to local sports allegiances is standard political fare and all—like an effort to put back the statue—but this is just plain weird. Either Trump didn’t know Paterno was dead, which is awkward, or he did, which is much stranger.

The lesson: A legendary Nittany Lion, dead, can’t help Trump beat Lyin’ Ted.