WASHINGTON — There's a theory going around the internet: For every new statement by President Donald Trump, there is a corresponding tweet that has aged extremely poorly.
As Trump translates his campaign statements into action, he’s been tormented by a searchable archive of more than 35,000 tweets, many of which feature outdated campaign positions, confident boasts that fall short or biting insults that could potentially apply to his own administration.
On Reddit, users have created a fast-growing section called r/TrumpCriticizesTrump dedicated to digging up newly relevant tweets and statements. Each entry contains an old quote with a link to the source — no further editorializing allowed. The most popular entry was submitted recently after a Trump aide told CNN that the president was “exhausted” when he made a significant error in a speech in Saudi Arabia.
Hypocrisy is the most banal sin in politics and Trump’s tweets are often resurfaced for cheap shots, but moderators at r/TrumpCriticizesTrump who talked to NBC News said they saw a deeper meaning behind the pattern.
“Personally, I think it’s valuable because it forces people to make a choice,” Reddit user BlatantConservative, one of the r/TrumpCriticizesTrump’s volunteer moderators, told NBC News in an email. “If anti-Trump material comes from a news agency or a political opponent, the human mind is going to rationalize and explain it away as fake or biased news ... If anti-Trump material comes from Trump himself, they have to choose whether they believe he's a liar, forgetful, or even if he's doing the wrong thing.”
In the case of fired FBI director James Comey and the Russia investigation, for example, Trump has denied Comey's accusation that he pressured Comey not to look into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. But in 2016, he tweeted a news article accusing Comey of trying to block the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.
Impeding an Investigation
For an opposition that's constantly told by the president that unflattering developments or inconsistent statements are merely fake news, the tweets can serve as a blue-checked anchor to reality.
“For those of us that have opposed him from the start, reading his old Tweets is helpful,” Reddit user 476pol, who created r/TrumpCriticizesTrump, said in a message. “We can feel a bit of relief as we're reminded that ‘oh ya, that's who this guy was all along.’”
While Trump’s old social media posts are often played for laughs, the tweets can sometimes conflict so egregiously with the White House’s stated line that they become a valuable time capsule.
In April, Trump bombed an airfield in Syria over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and slammed Obama for not doing the same. But all it took was a quick search to find an array of tweets in which Trump begged his predecessor not to attack Syria under any circumstances.
On his first foreign trip, Trump hailed a new era of cooperation with Saudi leaders, not far behind were his Facebook and Twitter posts accusing Hillary Clinton of kowtowing to a country that “want women as slaves and to kill gays” and bashing royals who want to “control our U.S. politicians.”
As first lady Melania Trump earned praise on the right for forgoing a headscarf in Saudi Arabia, users resurfaced the president’s tweets assailing Michelle Obama for traveling to the Middle East sans hijab because “we have enuf enemies.” In Jerusalem, Trump made reference to reports he shared sensitive Israeli intelligence with Russian officials, prompting an eruption of his old tweets assailing Clinton’s treatment of classified material.
By the time of Trump’s visit, the notion that there is a Trump tweet for every occasion had become well known enough to generate parodies.
After Trump was photographed touching a brightly lit globe with Saudi leaders, users spread photoshopped tweets in which Trump promised never to touch the orb “though its mysterious glow seduces and beguiles.” The New Yorker published a cartoon the same week featuring Trump haunted by the ghosts of tweets past.
If billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson gave $5 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, then you can bet Trump slammed him as a corrupt special interest on Twitter. If Flynn asked for immunity in exchange for testimony, you can bet Trump tweeted that similar behavior by Clinton’s aides implied her guilt. And then there are Trump’s numerous old tweets decrying President Obama’s golfing habit, which follow him every weekend the president hits the links.
The Electoral College
In a grim piece of foreshadowing, Trump also once tweeted a warning that the U.S. should not get involved in Syria at all because there would be “hell to pay” if they caused civilian deaths. Since taking office, a number of high-profile American strikes targeting ISIS have caused heavy civilian casualties.
His tweets have also played a significant role in the healthcare debate, where Trump has proposed cutting Medicaid funding by up to $1.4 trillion despite promising “no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid” on Twitter. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) even printed the tweet on a placard to accompany a floor speech. If the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the American Health Care Act is correct, Trump could be taken to task in the future for tweets falsely claiming he would lower deductibles and cover people with pre-existing conditions.
There are even potential legal implications to some of Trump’s Twitter inconsistencies. As part of its ongoing suit to block Trump’s efforts to impose travel restrictions on Muslim-majority countries, the ACLU has cited tweets by Trump that contradicted his own aides on whether his actions amounted to a “ban” on travel.
Critics often accuse the president of engaging in a type of projection in his tweets. The president’s regular messages assailing anonymously sourced stories as “fake news” look different next to his old tweet that an “extremely credible source” told him Obama’s birth certificate was fake, for example. Extending this logic to the future, Trump musings like this 2012 tweet predicting Obama would launch a new air campaign in Libya or Iran to boost his approval ratings have also garnered some attention.
There are also certain tweets that hopefully never become relevant under any circumstances.
Benjy Sarlin reported from Washington, and Sam Petulla from New York.