There are few crimes regarded with more scorn in American society than child sex abuse, but Trump this week opted to bestow such well wishes on a woman accused of just that. At Tuesday’s news conference, Trump was asked about Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell. He responded:
“I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well, whatever it is.”
Trump is apparently among the relatively few Americans who wish one of the alleged architects of a child sex ring well. Although she hasn’t been convicted of anything, what she’s accused of is heinous and well-corroborated.
Why on Earth would a president do that? Some conspiracy theories wagered that Trump didn’t want Maxwell to say much about his relationship with Epstein. Trump has repeatedly expressed sympathy for and/or solidarity with allies who have been charged with crimes and credited those who declined to “flip” on him. But in those cases, it was much more evident what information those closely affiliated with Trump might provide about him, especially with regard to the Russia investigation.
The more apparent and less speculative conclusion is that this is just a Trumpian stock phrase, and he doesn’t seem to have a filter for when its use is appropriate.
Asked about Porter, Trump said: “Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career.”
Trump noted that Porter denied that accusations and seemed to genuinely regret that he would no longer work in the White House. But this came after not one but two ex-wives accused him, including one who showed pictures of a black eye Porter gave her.
The last time Trump wished a person well before Maxwell was in April — and it was for a brutal dictator. Amid reports and rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be seriously ill or even incapacitated, Trump opted to wish him well — and again, repeatedly so.
“I can only say this: I wish him well, because if he is in the kind of condition that the reports say, that the news is saying, that would be a — that’s a very serious condition, as you know,” Trump said. “But I wish him well. We’ve had a good relationship. … So I just have to say to Kim Jong Un: I wish him very — you know, good luck. Good luck.”
Okay, so maybe Trump was just trying to salvage negotiations (despite those negotiations apparently having gone basically nowhere). But again, he was undoubtedly in a very small minority of people feeling or offering such a sentiment.
More often than that, Trump has wished well political foes he has vanquished, including Jeb Bush and Rick Perry in the 2016 primaries, or ones he aimed to in the future, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
He has used the phrase while bidding adieu to former aides who may or may not have run afoul of him, including Stephen K. Bannon, Rex Tillerson, John Bolton, Jeff Sessions, Jim Mattis and Madeleine Westerhout. (“Stephen K. Bannon? I just wish him well. … But he had nothing to do with our victory.”)
He has also backhandedly wished well to companies leaving the United States for other countries, including when Carrier was moving jobs to Mexico. (“When they want to leave, I will wish them well. I always say, ‘Enjoy your new plant, enjoy the very hot weather.’ ”) And he has said it of former senator Jeff Flake (Ariz.), one of his few GOP critics, and Shepard Smith, one of his few Fox News critics. (“He had the worst ratings on Fox, so there’s a reason — why is Shepard Smith leaving? … Well, I wish him well.”)
He has more magnanimously offered such comments on three occasions for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she has encountered health problems — despite her voting overwhelmingly with the liberal side of the court and Republicans salivating over a potential vacancy. (“I wouldn’t say she’s exactly on my side, but I wish her well. I hope she gets better. And I hope she serves on the Supreme Court for many, many years.”)
He has offered such sympathies for the people of Turkey and Venezuela in the face of unrest and other problems, to police injured in Pittsburgh and to hostages returning from North Korea.
Perhaps the most illustrative examples have come recently, though, when he offered the stock phrase in place of anything more elaborate or enlightening. When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was diagnosed with the coronavirus, Trump, who has repeatedly played down the threat of the virus, mustered only: “I have a call, just to wish him well to his group. No, I don’t want to be calling him now. I want him to get better.” Pressed that same month to comment again on the Kim reports, Trump responded: “I don’t want to comment on it. I just wish him well. I don’t want to comment on it.” When asked in May whether he had a message for Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan, he said simply, “Yes, I wish them well — very well.”
In other words, it’s what he often says when he doesn’t have much else to say. But that doesn’t exactly make it advisable in some circumstances — and that goes most especially for this week. Whether Trump had some kind of agenda, was being provocative, or just had nothing else to say, why would you say that?