WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - President Donald Trump asked a seven-year-old if she still believed in Santa Claus while taking calls from children on Christmas Eve.
"Are you still a believer in Santa? 'Cause at seven, it's marginal, right?" Mr Trump said while he and First Lady Melania Trump took calls on Monday night from children calling the North American Aerospace Defence Command Santa tracker.
“Happy Christmas. You just take care of yourself and say hello to your family, OK? Say hello to everybody. OK, thank you,” Trump said in an exchange in which only his side could be heard by reporters.
The Post and Courier newspaper identified the child as Collman Lloyd of Lexington, South Carolina, and published a video of her end of the conversation with Trump.
In the footage showing Lloyd’s side of the conversation, she responds “Yes, sir” when Trump asks if she believes in Santa.
Trump then says “it’s marginal,” after which Lloyd repeats, “Yes, sir.”
Speaking to the Post and Courier newspaper following the phone call, she said: “I was like, ‘wow.’ I was shocked.”
“It wasn’t really (nerve-wracking), I just had to think of what the truth was.”
On Christmas eve, Lloyd and her siblings left iced sugar cookies and chocolate milk out for Santa. The next morning, they were gone, and under the tree was a wrapped gift with Lloyd’s name on it: a brand new American Girl doll.
Santa is real after all, Lloyd said.
A short video of Trump's exchange with the girl was published by the Daily Beast on Twitter around 8:30 pm on Monday (US time) and quickly began circulating, its way paved by Twitter’s algorithm.
In a twinkling, Twitter was bombarded with messages railing against the president for what sounded to some as if he was casting doubts on a cherished fantasy of childhood.
“It’s just too freaking fantastic that Trump spent his Christmas Eve calling seven year olds and telling them believing in Santa at their age is ‘marginal,’” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said on his Twitter account.
“Actually there is no heaven,” tweeted Dan Amira, head writer for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” comedy show.
“When you die you just rot in the ground and get eaten by worms. Okay Merry Christmas, Timmy.”
Others defended Trump.
“Trump does a lot of things wrong, but suggesting to a 7 year old that Santa doesn’t exist is probably the one right thing he’s done while in office,” said a man identified on his Twitter account as Irtiza Sheikh.
“Someone’s gotta do it.”
The White House had no immediate comment on the social media response to the president’s Santa comments.
In 2017, Trump spent the holidays at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, with his family, but for his second Christmas as president, Trump opted to cancel his holiday getaway because of the partial federal government shutdown.
It began last week when top lawmakers failed to end an impasse over funding for his proposed wall along the border with Mexico.
Stuck in Washington on Christmas morning 2018, Trump displayed little holiday cheer while speaking with reporters after a 20-minute video conference with US troops serving abroad.
He assailed the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, railed against Democrats who refuse to fund the wall he wants to build on the US-Mexico border, and blasted the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, among other regular targets.
The president then closed with holiday wishes of sorts. “It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” he said.
“But other than that, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas.”
On Monday, the third day of the shutdown, there was a US market rout, with the S&P 500 plunging almost 3 per cent to end at a 20-month low. It was the worst final session before the Christmas holiday on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Mr Trump and the First Lady later headed to Washington National Cathedral to attend a Christmas Eve service.