Awkward Donald Trump Moments Caught On Camera

Perhaps with the exception of George W. Bush, whose mishaps were routinely satirized throughout the aughts, few presidents have spawned as many unforgettable viral moments as Donald Trump. From his bizarre cadence and oddly specific vocabulary (or should that be, very, very tremendously specific vocabulary) to his distinctive mannerisms, Trump is, for better or worse, adept at cultivating an iconic image. His unique persona has certainly led to him accumulating hordes of fans, who remain loyal to the former POTUS despite his scandals and ever-deepening legal troubles. In stark contrast to the image of super slick politicians, perhaps it's Trump's awkwardness and snappy sound bites that endear his fans toward him.

And in the age of memedom, his faux pas have lived on long past his presidency — and that includes his now infamous mugshot. As body language expert Jess Ponce III previously told us, even that pose was a means of Trump pandering to his loyal fanbase. "His eye contact is directly at camera," Ponce III explained, "as if he is looking through the lens directly to both his opponents and fans saying, 'I will not back down' ... He is determined, as if he posed purposefully this way. All signs indicate he planned this to become a campaign-style image."

When a politician is as awkward as Trump, it's inevitable that more than a few of those moments end up being captured by an eagle-eyed press. Prepare to cringe with these awkward Donald Trump moments caught on camera.

That time Donald Trump told a mortified colleague that disinfectant could help cure COVID

Various absurd remedies were promoted during the COVID-19 pandemic (who can forget Joe Rogan promoting horse de-wormer to avoid being vaccinated). Donald Trump jumped on this alternative medicine bandwagon when he appeared at a coronavirus task force conference in 2020 and suggested that disinfectant was a viable means of curing the virus. All the while, he repeatedly turned to the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, who was evidently mortified. 

"And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" the president asked Birx as she sat frozen in her seat. He proceeded to go on about applying light and heat to supposedly cure the virus. "Maybe you can, maybe you can't. I'm not a doctor, but I'm like a person that has a good you-know-what," he added, referring to his head, following a frosty response from the doctor. "Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light?" Birx swiftly assured Trump that it was not an effective treatment in fighting off COVID symptoms.

Reflecting on the incident the following year, Birx confessed that she still has a hard time living with the cringe. "Frankly, I didn't know how to handle that episode," she told ABC News. "I still think about it every day."

Donald Trump and SharpieGate

When Hurricane Dorian approached Florida in 2019, Donald Trump ended up misleading the public by claiming that the hurricane was also headed for Alabama. "In addition to Florida," Trump wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, "South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever." However, NWS Birmingham corrected the president, explaining that the powerful hurricane would not be hitting Alabama. But Trump remained adamant that his initial report was true, claiming that the "fake news" was trying to smear him.

So adamant, in fact, that when Trump held a press conference to discuss Hurricane Dorian, he held up a map of affected areas, which appeared to have been doctored with a Sharpie to highlight Alabama as a potential hurricane spot. The cringeworthy moment, dubbed "SharpieGate," spawned much mockery and many a meme. When asked about the doodled map, Trump alleged that he had been told there was a "95% chance probability" that Alabama would be affected, per The Washington Post. He then claimed that he didn't know whether the map had been edited with a Sharpie. "I don't know; I don't know," he said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley later admitted that a Sharpie was used on the map, but claimed that the media was focusing too much on the Sharpie as opposed to the potentially deadly hurricane.

When the president almost walked off without signing an important document

In an embarrassing moment straight out of the Dubya era, Donald Trump had to be reminded to fulfill his presidential duties. In 2017, he gave a speech in which he announced the reversal of many Obamacare policies. Repealing Obamacare had long been at the top of the president's agenda, leading to condemnation from critics who argued that such initiatives would lead to greater discrimination against sick and disabled people.

Following his speech, Trump thanked the crowd, shook hands with his colleagues, and then proceeded to head out the door following the signing ceremony — without actually signing the document. A frantic Mike Pence then rushed over to the president, reminding him, "Mr. President, you need to sign it." The moment led to some awkward laughter, with Trump attempting to regain his cool by quipping, "I'm only signing it because it costs nothing."

This wasn't the first time Pence had to remind Trump to perform his basic presidential responsibilities. Also that year, he walked out of another signing ceremony without signing documents. Again, Pence rushed up to Trump to remind him of his duties, though this time the president appeared to tell his colleague that he would sign the docs later. "This hugely awkward moment lays bare the tension within the WH," news anchor Brian Taff wrote on X.

Defying royal protocol by walking in front of the queen

It was unheard of for guests of Queen Elizabeth II to walk in front of her. In accordance with royal protocol, those meeting the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom are required to walk behind them as a sign of respect. Indeed, turning one's back to the queen or king is considered insulting. However, when Donald Trump met Queen Elizabeth in 2018, he waltzed right in front of her when inspecting the royal guards, as the nonagenarian monarch struggled to keep up with him. To make an awkward situation even more painful to watch, Trump also blocked Elizabeth's path, though she appeared too polite to tell the president off.

Subsequently, Trump was widely criticized on social media for his poor etiquette in the presence of the monarch. "Even if she wasn't the queen, wouldn't you let an elderly lady walk ahead of you? He acts like he was raised in a barn," one X user pointed out.

On his eponymous late-night show, Seth Meyers mocked Trump's sheer ability to be crushingly awkward in any given situation. "Trump's foreign trip was one of the more disastrous ones in recent memory. ... He met Queen Elizabeth and he immediately embarrassed himself by breaking royal protocol and wandering aimlessly in front of her," Meyers said. "The queen just disappeared behind Trump. It's like a royal eclipse; the only thing missing was Trump staring directly at it!"

Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron's weird handshake

Donald Trump doesn't have a great track record when meeting world leaders (he once appeared to refuse to shake hands with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel). But his 2017 encounter with French President Emmanuel Macron was positively toe-curling in its sheer awkwardness. During their meeting before the NATO Summit in Brussels, Trump took the lead in extending a hand to the French president, except it was the handshake that never ended. The two men were locked in what looked like an agonizingly long arm-wrestling match, made all the more painful to watch due to the simultaneous sounds of cameras clicking.

As Reuters noted, the handshake was so vigorous that the pair's knuckles turned white. Discussing the awkward moment with French outlet Journal du Dimanche, Macron claimed that his bizarre hold over Trump was intentional. "My handshake with him is not innocent," he said, "it is not the alpha and omega of a policy but a moment of truth." In their subsequent meetings, Trump and Macron continued with the bizarre handshakes, each one appearing more forceful than the last.

Guy Snodgrass, former chief speechwriter for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, claimed in his book "Holding the Line" that Trump was just as confused about the apparent arm-wrestling match as the rest of us. "I just returned from France," Trump said after reportedly bursting into a Pentagon meeting (via Politico). "Did you see President Macron's handshake? He wouldn't let go. He just kept holding on."

When Melania Trump refused to hold her husband's hand

There have been suggestions that Donald and Melania Trump's marriage might be on the rocks. But going by body language alone, it may have been floundering for some time. In one excruciating moment, Donald and Melania stepped off Air Force One in 2020 when the former reached out to hold his wife's hand. Melania quickly pulled her hand away from her husband, who attempted to hold it once more. Again, the first lady appeared to reject Donald's hand, instead tightly gripping her designer handbag. 

The incident led to much derision on social media, with some folks suggesting that Melania was engaging in some passive-aggressive rejection of her POTUS hubby. "Welcome to the resistance @FLOTUS," analyst Fernand R. Amandi joked on X. Melania did, however, eventually hold Donald's hand when they stepped off the plane. This wasn't the first time Melania apparently rejected her husband's displays of affection. In a viral moment from 2017, she swatted Donald's hand away during a trip to Israel.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Melania's friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, claimed that the former first lady's stoic nature leads to an aversion to public displays of affection. "She is a dignified, private person, and she'll deal with her personal life in private and it's no one's business," Wolkoff said. "They are not that couple that holds hands just because; she is old-world European and it's not who she is."

Donald Trump talks about beautiful chocolate cake and bombing Iraq (or is it Syria?)

Trust Donald Trump to come up with the most bizarre nonsequiturs when discussing issues as somber as the Syrian Civil War. Following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Largo in 2017, he waxed lyrical about chocolate cake before declaring that missiles had landed on ... Iraq. 

"We're now having dessert," he recalled to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo (via CNN). "And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen. And President Xi was enjoying it. So what happens is, I said, 'We've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq.'" A clearly baffled Bartiromo interjected, asking the president if he actually meant Syria. "Yes, heading toward Syria. And I want you to know that," a confused-looking Trump clarified in this cringeworthy exchange.

As critics argued, it was rather bizarre that Trump remembered what cake he was eating over diplomatic talks, but not which country he was launching missiles at. Over on X, some suggested that Bartiromo appeared totally bemused as Trump recounted the anecdote in this quintessentially idiosyncratic manner. "She's practically giddy," wrote one user (via BuzzFeed News). "Like she can't believe he's telling this story like this." Another suggested that the faux pas was reflective of Trump's shameless self-promotion: "Trump wants everyone to know Mar-a-Lago has the most beautiful chocolate cake, and he fired missiles at Iraq, or Syria, or somewhere over there."

Donald Trump saluted a North Korean general, unwittingly becoming a propaganda pawn

The bromance between Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un wasn't on our 2019 bingo cards. After sparring online (Trump infamously branded him "Rocket Man"), the two agreed to meet. It was a history-making moment, the first time ever that a U.S. president had entered North Korea and met with its leader. Things went surprisingly smoothly, with the pair agreeing to renewed negotiations and Kim praising Trump for agreeing to meet him. That was, until, Trump decided to salute a North Korean general.

In all his friendly banter with Kim, it seems that Trump forgot that North Korea is still regarded as an enemy of the state. Subsequently, his salute ended up being used as a propaganda tool, appearing in videos disseminated by the North Korean government. Then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Trump was simply being polite. But inevitably, he faced a heavy backlash for his actions, with some questioning why he seemingly showed so much respect to enemy nations and not allies such as Canada.

Speaking to CNN, diplomatic analyst John Kirby said it was a moment that defied all logic. "[Trump's] the commander in chief," Kirby explained. "He doesn't even salute his own generals. They salute him. ... You don't certainly don't do it with leaders of foreign military and you most certainly don't do it with the leaders of foreign militaries of an adversary nation."

The time Donald Trump thought Frederick Douglass was alive

In celebration of Black History Month in 2017, Donald Trump held a meeting to honor and praise the legacies of prolific African Americans. Except, he referred to the lauded abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the present tense. In a bewildering press conference, which also included an unsolicited tangent about a Martin Luther King statue and fake news, Trump declared, "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice." Douglass died in 1895.

Later, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried his best to explain away the faux pas, albeit rather clumsily. "I think there's contributions — I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made," he said, per The Washington Post. "And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he's going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more." It has been claimed that Spicer's own comments suggest that he also thinks Douglass is alive.

Subsequently, The Atlantic argued that Trump's ramblings exemplify that he likely knows very little about who Douglass was, and has little regard for Black history. Meanwhile, Esquire lamented that Trump's remarks were embarrassing and unprofessional, questioning why he wasn't briefed before the event. However, in a statement to HuffPo, the Douglass family said that they still refer to the abolitionist in the present tense to honor his legacy.

That super awkward hug with Ivanka

As if weird handshakes with the French president aren't bad enough, Donald Trump ended up inadvertently spawning many an op-ed when he awkwardly hugged his daughter at the Republican National Convention in 2016. The cringeworthy moment saw Donald hug Ivanka before placing his hands on her hips and giving her a pat.

X, or Twitter as it was known back then, erupted following the squeamish moment, with users accusing Donald's hands of getting too close to Ivanka's posterior. "Okay, so did anyone see Trump checking out Ivanka? Like, kind of patting her a**? Just asking for a friend," wrote one user. "Really creepy ... When he came on stage tonight, he grabbed Ivanka's hips," lamented another. Indeed, Donald does have an alarming history of describing his eldest daughter in an inappropriate manner unbefitting a father.

Chatting to Us Weekly, body language expert Patti Wood agreed that the hug was downright weird. "He patted her in a sexually dismissive way," Wood explained. "That repetitive pat with open hands on that location is usually a set of body language cues to say, 'The sex with you, it was good' ... I want to be clear that is not even a pat you would give to a child under the age of 5. You would pat them higher up on the back." She also alleged that Donald showed more intimate affection to his daughter than his wife, Melania, with whom his PDA has been arguably aloof.

The water sip that launched a thousand memes

Donald Trump proved that even something as simple as sipping water can be thoroughly awkward. In yet another cringe-inducing moment, the president was discussing his trip to Asia during a press conference in 2017, when he paused to find a glass of water. "They don't have water, that's okay," he shrugged. To make the situation even more embarrassing, the president was informed that there was a bottle of water to his left. He proceeded to turn the bottle to the side and open it in a bizarre motion that appeared to mimic the movements of a wind-up doll, before using two hands to take a sip. "This is how I tell my 4-year-old to drink water ... with both hands so she doesn't spill it," joked the BBC's Sonali Shah on X.

What made the faux pas even more bizarre is the fact that Trump had previously mocked rival Marco Rubio for needing a water break during a speech in 2013. "Help me! I need water!" Trump dramatically exclaimed during his presidential campaign trail in 2016.

Inevitably, Rubio took the opportunity to throw some serious shade on X. "Similar, but needs work on his form," the senator wrote above a video of the now infamous incident. "Has to be done in one single motion and eyes should never leave the camera. But not bad for his first time." Others pointed out that, unlike Trump, at least Rubio drinks water with one hand.

Donald Trump prematurely announced the death of a steelworker's father

When he's not suggesting that 19th-century social reformers are alive, Donald Trump is prematurely declaring the deaths of those who are alive and well. While hosting a White House event on planned steel tariffs in 2018, Trump invited Scott Sauritch, the president of the 2227 steelworkers union in West Mifflin, to discuss the importance of job protection (via Time). "He lost his job due to imports coming into this country," Sauritch recalled, referring to his father. "I just wanted to tell you, what that does to a man with six kids is devastating. I never forgot that, looking into his eyes in my household [and] what that does to a family."

Evidently moved by Sauritch's story, Trump declared, "Well, your father Herman is looking down. He's very proud of you right now." To paraphrase "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Herman Sauritch is very much alive. When Scott informed Trump of his faux pas, which resulted in much laughter, the president put his hand to the side of his mouth and replied, "Oh, he is? Well, then, he's even more proud of you."

As expected, Trump was lampooned for his mishap. Mashable declared that it was one of his most cringeworthy moments in a thoroughly embarrassing week (he was also sued by Stormy Daniels and shaded by a former aide that week). Meanwhile, an X user quipped that Herman may be alive, but the gaffe left us all dead.

Donald Trump, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the most awkward phone call ever heard

Diplomatic relations between world leaders are supposed to be somber and professional affairs. Yet, Donald Trump managed to turn a 2018 phone call with then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto into one of the most awkward exchanges in recent memory. In a clip that's painful to watch, Trump turned his phone on, expecting Nieto on the other line, only to be met with static. "Enrique?" pleaded the red-faced president, who began fiddling with buttons on the phone before asking his aides to hook Nieto up to the call. "A lot of people waiting," Trump noted as collective toes no doubt curled in the Oval Office. 

The awkwardness didn't end there. After concluding the phone call, Trump declared that he had made a deal with Canada. After reporters expressed their confusion, the exhausted-looking POTUS noted, "We made the deal with Mexico."

Some suggested that the embarrassing moment was a scene straight out of "The Office" or "Veep." Broadcasting a diplomatic phone call was out of the ordinary in the first place, but a Trump administration official told The Washington Post that POTUS was adamant that the public should be in on the call, as reflective of his commitment to showmanship. "[Trump] thought talking about sealing the deal in front of reporters would be not just interesting but important for the American people to see ... It was coordinated with the Mexican government," the official explained.