Fox News host Bill O’Reilly last night asked Donald Trump the following question with a straight face: “If she baits you into trying to say something inappropriate or explosive or controversial, are you aware that that might happen?” Trump took a deep breath and replied, “I went to the best school, I was a very good student, I mean, you know, Bill, what kind of a question is that?”
A dumb question to a guy who needs no baiting whatsoever to say inappropriate things.
And so it went with O’Reilly’s latest interview with Trump, a long-running series of friendly embraces. Roughly half of the session focused on the Sept. 26 debate at Hofstra University, which all of cable news has been hyping. “It’s going to be probably the most-watched debate in the history of this country because people want to see if you, Donald Trump, are going to take Hillary Clinton apart in a personal way,” said O’Reilly.
Looking forward to the debate accomplished something special for O’Reilly, who is a longtime friend of Trump and has used his popular cable news program to repackage the Republican nominee as a serious candidate with serious policies. Much of the work in that direction has involved either ignoring or sanding down the sharp edges of Trump’s most outrageous positions and pronouncements. In the case of last night’s session, the prospective approach helped O’Reilly to avoid discussion of a little issue that arose on Friday.
And in 2011, 2012, and on and on. That would be Trump’s promotion of the birther conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Though he repeatedly propagated this racist lie in the years leading up to his June 2015 campaign launch, Trump took to refusing to answer questions about it with reporters. In a Sept. 6 interview, O’Reilly brought up the matter with the candidate, with an emphasis not on the moral depravity of the crusade, but on the optics of it:
O’REILLY: Do you think your birther position has hurt you among African Americans?
TRUMP: I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t even talk about it anymore, Bill.
O’REILLY: No, I know.
TRUMP: Because, you know, I just don’t find the —
O’REILLY: But it’s there on the record.
TRUMP: I don’t know. I guess was maybe some, I don’t know. Why? I really don’t know why. But I don’t think, very few people, you are the first one that’s brought that up in a while. I don’t think so. I mean, look, I went to Detroit. We had — it was like a lovefest. We had just a great, great time. I was there for a long time. Again, the bishop and his wife and whole congregation, these are fantastic people.
So why didn’t O’Reilly press Trump on the abhorrence of birtherism? In all likelihood because O’Reilly didn’t think it was a big deal. When he introduced the interview with Trump, O’Reilly teed up the topic in this way: “Although it’s not directly linked, the race situation is also a problem for Mr. Trump. Truth is, African Americans will not vote for him in any great numbers. Primarily because the Democratic Party retains credibility in the black precincts. Also, Donald Trump is identified as being a birther, someone who has questioned President Obama’s citizenship and black Americans did not like that.”
Correction: Donald Trump is/was a birther, and everyone who cares about racial equality in the United States — whoever they may be — does not like that.
Last night’s interview didn’t broach the topic of Trump’s birtherism, even though he drew huge headlines on Friday following a strange press event at his Washington hotel. He declared, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” With that, Trump hoped to end any attention that may have come his way over birtherism. “It’s over,” said Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, in an interview. With O’Reilly’s help, perhaps.
List of issues on which Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly pressed Donald Trump in an interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” last night:
* “I don’t know if anybody can bring an end to individual acts of violence. I mean, I don’t think it’s possible. Am I wrong?”
* “You want to profile Arab or Muslim men. How would that work?”
* “They do it at the airports.”
* “Do you have a vision about how the profiling would work?”
* “These are just people who are loons, they just lose it, and I don’t know that we could ever stop that.”
* “She said today because of your profiling comments, she said that you are a ‘sergeant of recruitment.’…How do you answer that?”
* “When you say my strongest suit is my temperament, what does that mean to you?”
* “When you say that you’re going to profile certain Muslims, are you ever worried that the peaceful Muslims … will be the victim of backlash?”
* “But it’s almost 100 percent of the terrorism now is Muslim fanatics, almost 100 percent. You’re not going to be profiling guys with leather jackets … with blue eyes at this point.”
* In re. Sept. 26 debate: “People want to see if you, Donald Trump, are going to take Hillary Clinton apart in a personal way. Are you?”
* “If she baits you into trying to say something inappropriate or explosive or controversial, are you aware that that might happen?”
* “I’m Hillary Clinton, okay, and I say, ‘You know, Mr. Trump, you’re not qualified to be president. You never held any office and you’ve called women bad names and Muslims bad names and Mexicans bad names and you’re not qualified.’… That could absolutely happen.”
* “If she comes after you, for example, on the women’s card. Would you go into her marital history and things like that. Is that going to happen?”
* “Would you go into the marital arena if she hits you with the women thing?”
* “Lester Holt — You know him? He’s the debate moderator. You know Lester?”
* “Are you showing up” for the other debates?
* Martha “Raddatz and [Anderson] Cooper — you okay with them or no?”
* “You’re not going to boycott it like you did the Fox thing?”
* “And the last one is Chris Wallace. He’s fair, right?”