Former president Donald Trump’s latest public misstatement — mixing up his GOP primary opponent Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — may revive age as an issue on the 2024 campaign trail, this time aimed at Trump himself.
Speaking about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol during a rally Friday in Concord, New Hampshire, Trump seemed to attempt to blame the insurrection on Pelosi — but confused her name with that of his opponent, Haley.
“By the way, they never report the crowd on Jan. 6. You know Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley. You know they — do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it? All of it,” Trump said.
“Because of lots of things like Nikki Haley is in charge of security — we offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guards, whatever they want. They turned it down. They don’t want to talk about that. These are very dishonest people.”
Haley has said she was not in Washington that day or even in public office, having left her job as ambassador to the United Nations at the end of 2018.
(The House speaker is not in charge of the Capitol’s security, which is overseen by a four-member board that includes the sergeants-at-arms for both the House and Senate, the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.)
Days later, a Haley supporter, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) highlighted the gaffe in a national TV appearance.
“Nikki just turned 52. She’s 25 years younger than Donald Trump,” said Norman, one of the few South Carolina elected officials to publicly endorse the state’s former governor, in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I would say 25 years ago, he wouldn’t have made that mistake. But he kept saying, ‘Nikki Haley did this with the National Guard,’ but he was talking about Nancy Pelosi. That’s another example of... he wouldn’t have made that mistake if he was younger,” Norman said.
And after Haley said the episode showed that “we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this,” Trump on Monday offered to take a mental acuity test.
“I would sit down right now and take an aptitude test, and it would be my result against her result and she’s not going to win,” he said.
Polls show voters have concerns about both Trump and Biden’s age, though they are more concerned about Biden, which Trump has tried to leverage politically. In a mid-January YouGov/Economist poll, 55% of survey respondents said they worried his age would severely limit Biden’s ability to do his job, while 23% said the same about Trump.
One of Trump’s most fierce surrogates, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, tried to defend him.
“That isn’t a mix-up,” Stefanik told MSNBC on Saturday, saying Haley was relying on Democrats for support, like Pelosi does, in New Hampshire.
“President Trump has not lost a step. He is a stronger candidate... stronger than he is today, than he was in 2016, and he was in 2020,” she said.
Trump has yet to specifically address the mix-up publicly, but he has seemed to allude to it. On Saturday, at a rally in Manchester, Trump said he sometimes intentionally misspoke in order to be sarcastic or to make a point. He said he took a cognitive test “a few months ago” that proved he was all right.
“I aced it,” he said. “I’ll let you know when I go bad. I really think I’ll be able to tell you. Because someday we go bad.”
He also took aim at Haley, saying she had dismissed the need for people in public office once they reach 80. (She has called for cognitive tests for politicians over the age of 75, which would include both Trump and President Joe Biden.)
“I don’t mind being 80, but I’m 77. That’s a big difference,” Trump said.
A request for comment left with a campaign spokesman was not immediately returned.
Friday’s mix-up may have been the latest, but was not the only time Trump in recent months has made public misstatements on details that have raised eyebrows.
Since October, Trump has:
Pronounced the name of Hamas, an organization labeled as a terrorist group by the U.S. government, as “hummus”
Said “thank you very much Sioux Falls,” which is a city in South Dakota, to an audience in Sioux City, Iowa
Mixed up Biden and his administration with the Obama administration or Obama at least four times: in Ottumwa, Iowa; twice in a radio interview with Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade; and in an appearance in New Hampshire
Referred to Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban as the leader of Turkey, and incorrectly stated Hungary bordered Russia and Ukraine
And in October, the campaign of Trump’s former rival Ron DeSantis launched a social media thread it called the “Trump Accident Tracker” to document Trump misstatements as well as simply outlandish remarks, such as when on Oct. 11 he praised militant Islamic group Hezbollah as “very smart.”
The gaffes have come even as Trump has repeatedly knocked Biden, who was born on Nov. 20, 1942, versus Trump’s June 14, 1946, for being senile.
“It’s amazing because you watch him, you don’t even think he’s going to get through the sentence ― the stopping and the halting,” Trump told Fox Business Network in August. And he’s imitated Biden on stage, portraying him as lost.
Biden has occasionally given Trump material to work with. In September, Biden’s press conference during a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, included a rambling story about John Wayne and climate change, and an abrupt end called by the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Later that week, he said he had been at Ground Zero the day after the terror attack in 2001, but in reality he did not arrive until several days later.
And in a cringey moment, Biden tried to acknowledge at a White House event a House lawmaker who had died in a car accident only weeks earlier. “Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think she wasn’t going to be here ― to help make this a reality,” he said on Sept. 27, 2022, referring to former Iowa congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who died Aug. 3, 2022. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre the next day told reporters at the White House he merely had her at the top of his mind because of her death.
The White House has downplayed the gaffes as one-off moments.
“Our perspective is that it’s not about age. It’s about the president’s experience. That’s what we believe,” Jean-Pierre said at the time.
“I would put the president’s stamina, the president’s wisdom, ability to get this done on behalf of the American people against anyone on any day of the week.”