Opinion writer

(Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

After President Obama ripped Donald Trump today for betraying American values and further endangering the country with his ban on Muslims and all around hatemongering, Trump responded in a brief statement to the Associated Press:

President Obama claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people.

When I am President, it will always be America First.

Trump was hitting back at Obama’s extensive response in today’s speech to criticism of his refusal to use the phrase “radical Islam,” which is supposed to signify that he is too politically correct to describe the terror threat accurately, and thus is ill equipped to combat it. Obama claimed that the phrase plays into the hands of terrorists by furthering the narrative that Islam and the west are at war, and that it is absurd to imply that the thousands of people who work hard daily to combat the terrorist threat do not know who and what they are dealing with.

Trump’s response was to double down on the notion that Obama is tacitly rooting for the terrorists by explicitly claiming that he prioritizes them over the American people.

The day after the Orlando shooting, GOP candidate Donald Trump railed against the president and warned Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S., while Democratic rival Hillary Clinton called for changes to gun laws. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Trump had previously tried to keep this subtle — or, at least, as subtle as Trump is capable of being — by saying that “something is going on” with Obama’s refusal to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” and that perhaps Obama has “something else in mind” other than doing what’s necessary to protect the country. But today he made the charge explicit in a prepared statement. In a way, this isn’t that surprising, coming from the most famous birther on the planet. But it perhaps is surprising when you look at what it says about Trump’s concern for his fellow Republicans.

Trump’s statement today comes as an increasing number of Republicans were already voicing increasing discomfort with his previous, vaguer iterations of this argument. Today’s statement functions as a big fat middle finger in the faces of those Republicans.

This sort of thing may only make other Republicans even more reluctant to function as his surrogates. They may understandably think that there is little risk in sticking out their necks and standing by him even on less controversial matters, because he could always unleash some new verbal atrocity later, making himself even more toxic.

What we really could use is some reporting that explains what on earth Trump actually thinks he gains from doing this. The last person on a presidential ticket who played this sort of game on this scale was Sarah Palin, whose “palling around with terrorists” jibe was in some key way different from what Trump is doing, but played to the same instincts among the GOP base. At the time, in 2008, the country hadn’t even seen what Obama would be like as president, so this strategy perhaps didn’t seem quite as crazy or doomed to fail as it does at present. Palin, who exhibited a cavalier lack of concern for policy and substance that is very similar to that of Trump, excited a lot of people for some time, but has now devolved into a national laughingstock.

And now Obama has been decisively elected and reelected, has survived a number of major battles in his second term, and is less than a year from returning to private life. Today he hit 53 percent in Gallup. Oh yeah, and not to put too fine a point on it, but Obama isn’t even on the ballot this time.

Yet here is Trump, stumbling deeper and deeper into old, well worn Sarah Palin territory, having already seen what happened to the last person who tried it.


UPDATE: Post edited slightly to get the history right.