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Politics & Policy

Trump Translation Service: ‘There Won’t Be a Transfer of Power’

President Donald Trump delivers a campaign speech at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pa., September 3, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’ve been noodling the idea of launching a Trump Translation Service for the large number of Trumpish phrases that his critics and the media don’t understand. It would be very expensive, because I really don’t want to do it, but I have to think there would be a substantial market.

For example, just yesterday, Trump took a question about whether he would respect a peaceful transfer of power regardless of the outcome of the election. For anyone who really understands Trump and his administration, it’s a stupid question: Of course they would. And anyway what are they going to do, barricade themselves in the West Wing? But for people who don’t understand him — which includes most people on the left — it’s not a stupid question. And Trump has brought it on himself by answering questions about whether he’d concede the election as if the question was whether he’d concede that the election was fair. It should be obvious by now that if he loses (and maybe even if he wins) he will never stop complaining about how unfair it all was.

At any rate, the answer he gave has caused great consternation. Here is my transcription of the original Trumpish sentence fragments:

We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster. [Reporter interrupts and repeats question, Trump tries to talk over him] I know, I know, I know — No, we want, we want to have. . .  Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very transfer, you’ll have a very peaceful, you won’t have a transfer frankly, you’ll have a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.

On the left there has been a meltdown over this comment, with people taking it as incontrovertible proof of their worst suspicions. Anne Applebaum tweeted: “He said it out loud. ‘There won’t be a transfer’ of power. He isn’t leaving, even if he loses.” That’s not at all what he meant of course, but it can’t be said he doesn’t deserve it, given how easy it would have been to answer the question that was actually asked in a simple sentence of coherent English.

Anyway, here is what he meant, with implied words supplied in brackets. “No, we want, we want to have [a peaceful transfer of power.] Just get rid of the [mail-in] ballots, and you’ll have a very [peaceful] transfer, you’ll have a very peaceful [transfer, and] you won’t [even] have a transfer frankly, you’ll have a continuation [of power because I will win if we have a fair election without millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots.]”

That’s still a terrible answer to an absolute softball question, but at least what he meant is clear: Yes we’ll respect a peaceful transfer of power. But if you’re worried about election integrity you need to do something about the mail-in ballots. If the mail-in ballots are handled properly, and it’s a free and fair election, there won’t even be a transfer of power, because I’ll win.

Of course, that’s what he’s been trying to say about this all along, in one misshapen form or another, further confusing rather clarifying with each new imprecision.

Mario Loyola is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program of Florida International University, and a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.


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