By the end of the workday on Tuesday, Arnold Schwarzenegger says that he was getting calls from Europe, from those wondering if he was about to head back East to physically take on President Donald Trump.
That was after multiple outlets picked up an excerpt of a Men’s Journal interview in which Schwarzenegger explained the thought process that went through his mind in how to respond to Trump’s Jan. 6 tweet that made a dig at the ratings this season for “Celebrity Apprentice.” Schwarzenegger succeeded Trump as the star of the show.
The Men’s Journal excerpt read: “I said, ‘Let’s sit on it for an hour,’ Schwarzenegger says, blowing on his gruel. But then he had an idea. ‘I called my assistant and said, ‘I think what we really should do is request a meeting and go back to New York.’ He pauses for maximum impact. ‘And then we just smash his face into the table.’ Schwarzenegger’s laugh fills the cafe like a small nuclear explosion.”
Schwarzenegger told Variety that he was joking but, like a game of telephone, that point got lost as the story got picked up and traveled across digital and social media on Tuesday, with headlines on the order of, “Schwarzenegger says of Trump that he wanted to ‘smash his face into a table.'”
“Writers want to create sensationalistic things and blow things up,” said Schwarzenegger, who was California’s governor from 2003 to 2011. He even called it “fake news” to report the story without noting that he was explaining his thought process “in a joking way.”
Schwarzenegger has been critical of Trump, and has responded to other statements that the president has made, but that doesn’t extend to physical harm.
“One has to be very careful because I always try to say things in a classy way, and not to give the impression that I want to be physical and do this to the president. I have too much respect for the presidency,” he said. “I want to make sure that what I do represents the things I am.”
He noted that he actually made similar comments about responding to Trump in a recent interview for Timothy Ferriss’ podcast.
In that interview, Schwarzenegger also talked of his thought process that morning.
“If I would have responded right away I would have said, ‘Don’t go into a stinking contest with a skunk.’ But then I said to myself, ‘Well maybe that is not the right answer, and it really doesn’t say anything.’ So let me wait a little bit,” Schwarzenegger told Ferriss.
He added, “And then slowly but surely I went through different stages and I said to myself at one point, ‘Maybe I should just go back East and just hit his head against the table or something like that.’ Then I thought, ‘Don’t be stupid. Let’s get out of that one.’ Eventually I came up with something where I talk about, ‘This is a lot of energy he put in there to compete about the ratings. I hope he puts all the energy in serving all of the people in America.'”
In the end, Schwarzenegger tweeted back, “There’s nothing more important than the people’s work, @realDonaldTrump. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you’ll work for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings.”