Trump has now claimed multiple times that Barack Obama founded ISIS and that Hillary Clinton is his cofounder. After careful study, I have concluded that Trump’s claim is false, but it raises an interesting question: Is Trump lying or just abusing hyperbole? The answer is: yes.
More generally, the answer is that Trump is not bright enough to understand the difference between literal and figurative language.
Here’s a key exchange between him and handmaiden Hugh Hewitt, who tried to rescue Trump from his own gaffe only to be fully rebuffed:
HH: Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.
DT: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.
HH: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.
DT: I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?
HH: I know what you’re arguing…
DT: You’re not, and let me ask you, do you not like that?
HH: I don’t. I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.
DT: Well, I disagree.
HH: All right, that’s okay.
DT: I mean, with his bad policies, that’s why ISIS came about.
DT: If he would have done things properly, you wouldn’t have had ISIS.
HH: That’s true.
DT: Therefore, he was the founder of ISIS.
HH: And that’s, I’d just use different language to communicate it.
It has long been argued that Trump is a capital-B Bullshitter in the Harry Frankfurt sense of the word, using unfalsifiable language to create a specific but false impression. But I think the concept gives Trump too much credit. Hewitt was trying to steer Trump back into bullshittery. But Trump’s not bright enough to know how to bullshit without making factual claims that are easily disproven.