Storm controversy underscores Trump's mindset

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump doesn't make mistakes. At least according to him.

Trump's relentless justifications of his erroneous warnings that Hurricane Dorian was threatening Alabama on Sunday, which created days of ridicule and skepticism, are just the latest example of the president's lifelong reluctance to admit an error, no matter how innocuous.

His fervent, dayslong pushback has displayed not only his prolonged focus on a personal spat but his willingness, notably again late on Thursday, to deploy government staff and resources to justify an inaccurate claim. Presidential proclamations can move markets, rattle world capitals and, in this case, unnecessarily alarm the residents of a state. Trump's relationship with the truth and accountability threatened to, yet again, diminish the weight of any president's words.

"Great presidents admit when they've screwed up, they fix it, and they move on," said presidential historian Jon Meacham. "Right now, it is a mistake about a hurricane hitting a state. But it can also be a far bigger deal and cost people lives and help create a climate where people can't trust the government."

This was far from the first time Trump has refused to admit a mistake. Examples range from the harmless, like his assertion that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history, to the more serious, like his claim of widespread voter fraud in 2016 that led to the establishment of an election commission to try and back up his claim.

This particular Trump tempest, as so often, began with a tweet.

On Sunday, the Republican president warned that Alabama was "most likely to be hit (much) harder than anticipated." By then, however, Alabama faced no threat at all from Dorian, as the National Weather Service quickly declared.

Rather than dropping it, Trump went into overdrive defending his alert, and he was still at it four days later.

On Wednesday, Trump displayed a map of Dorian's projected path that showed the cone of uncertainty covering much of Florida but stopping in its panhandle. Until, that is, an extension was added in black marker that covered a swath of Alabama.

The president, who is known for his love of Sharpies, pleaded ignorance about the ad hoc alteration. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know," he responded when questioned.

That night and the next day, he took to Twitter to again insist that certain storm tracking models proved he was right. He tweeted outdated maps, he pushed White House staff to support his claims and he doubled down — eight times over — on his erroneous forecast.

"In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed," he said in one of the tweets. "What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!"

Then, late Thursday, the White House put out an official statement from Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

It was he, Brown wrote under the White House letterhead, who briefed Trump on Sunday, showing him the official National Hurricane Center forecast but also a number of other models, which "showed possible storm impacts well outside the official forecast cone."

The running controversy, stirred daily by the president, has electrified social media, with #Sharpie trending on Twitter and jokes galore. But, for some, it has become a new referendum on Trump and his fitness for office.

"I'm really worried. I feel sorry for the president," said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, who hopes to take Trump on in the 2020 election. "And that is not the way we should feel about the most powerful figure in this country. Somebody on whose wisdom and judgment our lives literally depend."

But White House allies defended the president and accused the media of preferring to overreact to the blunder rather than focus on the lives still in the storm's way.

"This president gets the worst press of any president in the history of the republic," said Geraldo Rivera, a reporter and Trump confidant. "Everything he says and does is cross-checked and scrutinized to reveal him to be stupid, uninformed or a liar."

Even as the hurricane battered the East Coast, Trump's attention was still on Alabama, repeatedly tweeting old forecasts that suggested Alabama could get hit by the storm.

"Americans are in harm's way and the president is laser-focused on ... covering up a small mistake he made," tweeted former FBI Director James Comey, a noted Trump critic. "Narcissism is not leadership. America deserves better."

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Hurricane Dorian: See the storm's effect on the Bahamas, Florida and more
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Hurricane Dorian: See the storm's effect on the Bahamas, Florida and more
Brennamae Cooper, right, cries and hugs a friend after finding themselves walking in opposite directions, one escaping the destruction of Hurricane Dorian and the other on the way to search for her relatives, on a shattered road near the town of High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa)
Extensive damage and destruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is seen in Great Abaco, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The storm’s devastation has come into sharper focus as the death toll climbed to 20 and many people emerged from shelters to check on their homes. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Gaudenzi)
A man walks past damages caused by Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian lashed the Carolinas with driving rain and fierce winds as it neared the US east coast Thursday after devastating the Bahamas and killing at least 20 people. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Limbs from trees covered the sidewalks around Forsyth Park Thursday morning, Sept. 5, 2019, following the passing of Hurricane Dorian. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
Homes flattened by Hurricane Dorian are seen in Abaco, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The storm’s devastation has come into sharper focus as the death toll climbed to 20 and many people emerged from shelters to check on their homes. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Gaudenzi)
Women cover their heads with palmetto leaves as they rest on the road, after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, near High Rock in Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The women are walking to the town of High Rock to look for their relatives. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Power company lineman work to restore power after a tornado hit Emerald Isle, N.C. as Hurricane Dorian moved up the East coast on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)
Beaufort Police Officer Curtis Resor, left, and Sgt. Micheal Stepehens check a sailboat for occupants in Beaufort, N.C. after Hurricane Dorian passed the North Carolina coast on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Dorian howled over North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday — a much weaker but still dangerous version of the storm that wreaked havoc in the Bahamas — flooding homes in the low-lying ribbon of islands and throwing a scare into year-round residents who tried to tough it out. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)
Una mujer (izquierda) habla por su celular tras ser evacuada de las islas Ábaco junto a otras personas luego del paso del huracán Dorian, en un aeropuerto privado en Nassau, Bahamas, el 5 de septiembre de 2019. (AP Foto/Fernando Llano)
Johnny Crawford navega en su kayak por una calle inundada, el 5 de septiembre de 2019, en Charleston, Carolina del Sur, tras el paso del huracán Dorian. (AP Foto/Meg Kinnard)
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over a house destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. At least 30 people died in the hurricane and the number could be "significantly higher," Bahamian health minister Duane Sands told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Thursday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A man cries after discovering his shattered house and not knowing anything about his 8 relatives who lived in the house, missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A couple embraces on a road destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, as they walk to the town of High Rock to try and find their relatives in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Forensic police rest after helping to recover a corpse in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Fernley Cooper walks with with his daughter Grace, with what they could recover from their house, on a road destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, near High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5 , 2019. Cooper and his daughter walked to Freeport to take refuge in the home of their relatives. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa)
Fernley Cooper, hand in hand with his daughter Grace, walks with what they could recover from their house, on a road destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, near High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5 , 2019. Cooper and his daughter walked to Freeport to take refuge in the home of their relatives. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa)
A woman comforts a man who cries after discovering his shattered house and not knowing anything about his 8 relatives who lived in the house, missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The portico of a house destroyed by Hurricane Dorian is the only thing that stands of the structure, destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday Sept. 5, 2019. At least 30 people died in the hurricane and the number could be "significantly higher," Bahamian health minister Duane Sands told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Thursday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Forensic police recover a corpse in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Forensic police recover a corpse in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Brennamae Cooper, right, cries as she walks to Freeport, escaping of the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian, near the town of High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Cooper walked with her husband and daughter to a relatives house in Freeport. The couple at left are on their way to High Rock to search for family member. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
MARSH HARBOUR, BAHAMAS - SEPTEMBER 5 : Debris from Hurricane Dorrian covers a neighborhood in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Hurricane Dorian made landfall here as a Category 5 hurricane, a deadly tempest that leveled homes, crushed cars, crumpled boats and killed people. (Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
People explore the streets after Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A view of damage from Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - People shelter inside a church after surviving Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People shelter inside a church after surviving Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man is seen among the damage from Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors of Hurricane Dorian receive a meal from the World Central Kitchen at the government complex on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People shelter inside a church after surviving Hurricane Dorian on September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the World Central Kitchen delivers food relief to survivors of Hurricane Dorian September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN on Thursday. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Chef Jose Andres carries food relief while working with his charity group World Central Kitchen to help survivors of Hurricane Dorian September 5, 2019, in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco, Bahamas. - The death toll from Hurricane Dorian has risen to 30 in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told American network CNN today. Authorities had previously reported 20 dead, but have warned that the final figure is sure to be far higher. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
September 6, 2019; Myrtle Beach, SC, USA; People collect shells near a stranded Jeep car in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina before it was towed around 8 a.m. Friday, September 6, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
September 6, 2019; Myrtle Beach, SC, USA; Real Estate booklet racks blew over during Hurricane Dorian, but not much other damage along North Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Friday, September 6, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
September 6, 2019; Myrtle Beach, SC, USA; People walk on the beach during lower tide in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after Hurricane Dorian cameFriday, September 6, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
September 6, 2019; Myrtle Beach, SC, USA; Terence Powell puts a lid back on a North Ocean Boulevard garbage can in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Friday, September 6, 2019. Powell said the city took them off before Hurricane Dorian came so they would not blow off. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
September 6, 2019; Myrtle Beach, SC, USA; People walk on the beach during lower tide in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after Hurricane Dorian came Friday, September 6, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard/The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
Heavy surf from Hurricane Dorian strikes the Yaupon Beach Pier on Oak Island on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in Oak Island, N.C. (Photo by Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS/Sipa USA)
Linda Hendrickson and Steve Edwards watch the heavy surf from Hurricane Dorian as it strikes the Yaupon Beach Pier on Oak Island on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in Oak Island, N.C. (Photo by Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS/Sipa USA)
September 5, 2019; Wilmington, NC, USA; Water fills Water Street in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina on Sept. 5, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Angeli Wright/Asheville Citizen Times via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
September 5, 2019; Wilmington, NC, USA; Jackson Navarra and his dog, Riku, cross a flooded Water Street near the Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, during a break in the bad weather caused by Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 5, 2019. Navarra said he took Riku for an extra long walk because he could and that he was "pretty underwhelmed so far" by the storm which is expected to cross over the area overnight. Mandatory Credit: Angeli Wright/Asheville Citizen Times via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
Horry County Fire rescue check on The Retreat subdivision in Little River, near North Myrtle Beach, after a tornado from Hurricane Dorian damaged the area Thursday, Septemeber 5, 2019. Hurricane Dorian Hits Thursday (Photo by KEN RUINARD / GANNETT USA TODAY NETWORK, The Greenville News via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)
A man walks away from the ocean on the Boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Thursday, Septemeber 5, 2019. Hurricane Dorian Hits Thursday (Photo by KEN RUINARD / GANNETT USA TODAY NETWORK, The Greenville News via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)
Downed tree limbs on Calhoun Street at Marion Square in Charleston, SC, during Hurricane Dorian Thursday, September 5, 2019. The storm center was 80 miles south-southeast of Charleston at 7 a.m. packing sustained winds of 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Charlestondorian Mb14 09052019 (Photo by MATT BURKHARTT/Staff, The Greenville News via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)
As multiple law enforcement agengies continue their investigation into the shooting of at least on Madison County Sheriff deputy Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, on Hwy. 16 along the edge of the Canton Country Club, Mississippi State Troopers and Canton Police cordone the crime scene. Madison County Sheriff deputy shooting (Photo by Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger, Mississippi Clarion Ledger via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)
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Trump has made a career of not acknowledging errors, going full steam ahead even when caught in an error or lie.

"I think apologizing's a great thing, but you have to be wrong," he said in a 2016 interview. "I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I'm ever wrong."

That approach has, at times, served him well, allowing him to plow though controversies assured that many of his followers choose to trust his word over the press. But critics say it is one thing to claim Trump Tower in Manhattan has 68 stories though by any measure it has 58, and it is another to use government resources and push his staff to reverse-engineer something in an attempt to suggest he was right all along.

After he loudly warned of the dangers of a caravan of migrants in 2018, administration officials cited a terrorism arrest statistic that was proven false. When Trump said he had ready a middle-class tax cut plan before the midterm elections, though nothing had been discussed, officials scrambled to craft a plan. When Trump fumed that the size of his inaugural crowd was reported to be smaller than his predecessor's, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was forced to defend the false claim. And even when Trump mistakenly tweeted the nonsensical word "covfefe" late one night, the president, instead of owning up to a typo or errant message, later sent Spicer to declare, "I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant."

Trump has owned up to a few mistakes: He apologized, once, for the Access Hollywood tape that captured him boasting about groping women — though he later mused that the audio might be fake. And the mistakes he has made in office were, by his account, the appointments of officials who have let him down, like Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

His attitude is no joke to those who worry about the potential consequences when the matter is far more grave than a weather map.

"The Constitution, with its checks and balances, was drafted on the intellectual foundation that we all make mistakes all the time: a president does, Congress does, the courts do, the people do," said Meacham. "It's remarkable that more harm hasn't come of it. It would be funny if it weren't so serious."

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