The Slatest

Why Donald Trump Takes Such Great Pleasure in Saying Wrong

You could see it coming every time, and it was possible to take pleasure in the lead-up. “Wrong.” From the mouth of Donald Trump, the word became a deadpan honk.

The first audible instance of wrong came when Hillary Clinton brought up Trump making fun of a disabled New York Times reporter.* Trump processed the accusation as it came, then leaned in delicately toward his microphone and let it out: “Wrong.”

He would repeat this same bit of choreography four or five more times, depending on how you count it. Each time, there was a moment of recognition when his back would straighten a little, he’d swivel his head forward and purse his lips just a little bit. It was like Steph Curry pulling up to the three-point line and finding his footing.

Wrong. Swish. It’s the same idea.

Trump loves saying wrong in this way. It’s efficient. It gets the point across with an undeniable potency and does not require him to articulate an argument. The argument is just: “Wrong.” Who can argue with that?

Unsurprisingly, wrong is often wrong, as in the case of the Times reporter, whom Trump did mock. But the beauty of wrong is that you don’t have to get into all that. That’s why it’s especially useful in situations where Clinton is definitely, technically right, but there is a (modest) argument to be made that Trump isn’t just being flatly dishonest. It’s telling that he wrong’d on Wednesday’s debate when Clinton insisted that he had supported the Iraq war. Technically, she’s right—Trump said in a Howard Stern show that he was for the war. But in a deeper sense, she is wrong: Trump didn’t “support” the Iraq war because he never really thought about the Iraq war at all! His exact words on Stern, when Stern asked him whether he was for the war, were “Yeah, I guess so.” He “supported” the war the same way I support wearing New Balance sneakers. Sure, whatever.

The most special time Trump said wrong at Wednesday’s debate, he didn’t even have to say it. He just mouthed it.* He looked like he was blowing a little bubble.

*Correction, Oct. 20, 2016, at 12:45 a.m.: This post originally misstated the timing of Trump’s wrongs. The first instance of wrong in the debate was when Trump mouthed it. Later, he said wrong in response to Clinton’s correct assertion that he mocked a disabled Times reporter.