So Donald Trump isn’t running for president. But let it not be said that his flirtation with a presidential run had no consequences. In reality, Trump exits the race with a major accomplishment under his belt: He single-handedly did more damage to the right’s ongoing campaign to paint Obama as culturally suspect and vaguely alien than anyone else in American politics today.
After President Obama decided to release his long-form birth certificate, Trump took credit for it. “I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something nobody else has been able to accomplish,” Trump said modestly at the time.
And Trump was right. But he couldn’t yet be aware of precisely what he was in the process of accomplishing.
At first, Trump’s trafficking in birther falsehoods worked brilliantly. Because he was unabashedly speaking to the right wing base’s desire to hear someone loudly undercut Obama’s legitimacy as president — and give voice to their suspicions that Obama harbors vaguely suspect intentions towards our country — he rocketed to the top of GOP primary polls.
But Trump was committing what has to be one of the most catastrophic cases of bad timing in American political history. Trump succeeded in pushing the right’s narrative about Obama to an unsightly and extremely high profile denouement at precisely the same time that Obama and his national security team were putting the final touches on the plan to kill America’s number one terrorist foe — accomplishing one of this country’s principal national security objectives of the last decade.
Even putting aside the killing of Bin Laden, a high visibility huckster/reality TV star like Trump was the perfect agent to reveal the cheap fraudulence and vacuousness of birtherism and its underlying implications. But beyond that, you couldn’t have asked for a more striking and revelatory contrast than the sight of the media freak-show surrounding Trump’s bluster and Obama’s release of his long form certificate — followed only days later by the President somberly announcing to the nation that he had given the order to kill this country’s and the world’s most wanted man. We can’t fully appreciate yet just how much damage this has done to one of the right’s primary narratives about Obama. And it wouldn’t have happened at all without a showman of Trump’s ability to command media attention for literally any claim, no matter how insane or transparently self-serving.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for your service to this country.