The double negative, a common grammatical elephant trap, claimed a high-profile victim on Saturday night. Donald Trump.
In a statement, the former president said: “Anybody that doesn’t think there wasn’t massive election fraud in the 2020 presidential election is either very stupid, or very corrupt!”
There was no massive election fraud in the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden by 306-232 in the electoral college and by more than 7m ballots in the popular vote.
But Trump thinks, or at least says, that there was massive election fraud. Though his own formula would therefore make him “very stupid, or very corrupt”, his claims have had deadly effect, stoking the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January.
That led to Trump’s expulsion from social media, which is why he now communicates by statement, nominally a means of communication less open to spontaneous error.
As it happens, Trump has some sort of form with double negatives and the dangers they pose.
In July 2018, in Helsinki, he famously stood next to Vladimir Putin of Russia and said “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, which interfered in the 2016 US election.
Under fire for that remark, Trump said: “The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”
Mockery was delighted and swift. So it was again on Saturday night, on Twitter, perhaps the lost platform most costly to Trump.
Kyle Cheney, a reporter for Politico, wrote: “This… doesn’t say what Donald Trump thinks it does.”
The ABC correspondent Jon Karl, author of a bestselling book on the end of Trump’s presidency, offered a slice of wishful thinking: “He finally conceded …”
And George Conway, a conservative critic married to a loyal Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, wrote: “Seriously, I usually don’t find it unsurprising when he says something that’s not inaccurate, but no one – not even the former guy – can be not correct all the time.”