The senior legal adviser of President Donald Trump’s campaign shared a quote on Twitter that was falsely attributed to former president Theodore Roosevelt. The critical response was immediate and efforts were quickly made to clean up the mess, but that only made things worse.
Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, known for pugilistic interactions with members of the press and any other perceived enemies, took to the micro-blogging website just after midnight on Wednesday and posted a meme of Roosevelt with the following caption: “To anger a conservative, lie to him. To anger a liberal, tell him the truth.”
That phrase, in fact, appears to have a vintage of roughly 13 years–first appearing in print around 2007. Since then, it has been attributed to figures like Winston Churchill and Roosevelt, unattributed entirely or simply chalked up to some “anonymous” wordsmith with a penchant for insulting liberals. Various fact checks over the years have repeatedly debunked the phrase’s attribution to Roosevelt.
Multiple Twitter users pointed out Ellis’s clumsy use of the debunked meme overnight. By mid-morning on Wednesday, the Trump campaign’s top legal mind was backtracking. Instead of focusing on minor issues like historical accuracy, Ellis argued, the content of the quotation is what’s really important.
“For people asking, this quotation has been attributed to Roosevelt, but there isn’t a specific record of him saying this in a speech,” she admitted in a follow-up tweet. “I posted it because the ifea [sic] itself is true, whether or not he said it!”
For people asking, this quotation has been attributed to Roosevelt, but there isn’t a specific record of him saying this in a speech. I posted it because the ifea itself is true, whether or not he said it! 🙂
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) November 25, 2020
And then the dunks came in earnest.
“Jenna Ellis’s fake Roosevelt quote just captures so many perfect things about the Trump legal team,” mused appellate attorney Raffi Melkonian via Twitter. “The notion that Roosevelt just happened to talk like a 21st century Trumpy culture warrior is so dumb I don’t know what to do with it.”
Putting a fine point on it, the attorney kept up the bit:
You know, as I flip through some of Teddy’s speeches I really am getting how Trump sees himself in Roosevelt. pic.twitter.com/gXMo96s9sO
— Raffi Melkonian (@RMFifthCircuit) November 25, 2020
Attorney and legal writer Adam Shniderman, along with many others, poked fun at the Trump lawyer’s misspelling of the word “idea.”
“Ifea must be another one of those stores where you cobble things together yourself and hope that they work out ok,” he tweeted. “Seems this one was ‘one Allen wrench short of assembly.'”
Similar such takes were more than abundant online:
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) November 25, 2020
The ifea itself is true!
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) November 25, 2020
“I’m really bad at lawyering, but I couldn’t pass up the payday from Trump to lose a bunch of court cases.” – Jenna Ellis
There’s no record of her saying this. I posted it because the ifea itself is true, whether or not she said it! 🙂 https://t.co/2reoQ3fKVM
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) November 25, 2020
10 hours later: “I meant to do that. The huge photo and attribution to TR? Just felt like it. Had nothing to do with the quote. Just like the ifea.” https://t.co/86R1k1R8si
— Jennifer M. Wood (@j_m_wood) November 25, 2020
Bad ifea Jenn https://t.co/pfXn2O21uQ
— Don “Big Chooch” Moynihan (@donmoyn) November 25, 2020
Whaf a covfefe ifea! https://t.co/qJgwY9gDLo
— saliltripathi (@saliltripathi) November 25, 2020
“Among the layers here, she is in fact telling a lie to conservatives to make them mad,” noted writer Tom Scocca, wrapping things up in the Twitter equivalent of a bow. Just in time for the holidays.
[image via screengrab/Centennial Institute/YouTube]
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