Way back when, as a rookie semi-regular talking head, I got some good advice from Paul Begala, then one of the co-hosts of the CNN’s “Crossfire.” In the makeup room before an appearance, Begala could probably tell I was nervous, and he told me, “Ed, just remember: Don’t defend the indefensible or deny the obvious. It’ll make the show easier and we will have a better discussion.” I always remember his advice and I try to stick to it.
In politics, in order to be effective, it’s important to always start from an honest place and remember Begala’s admonition: to never deny the obvious or defend the indefensible. And if you’re a serious contributor to the debate, nobody expects you to deny the obvious or defend the indefensible. So I’m struck by what I see as I watch the surreal Trump campaign unfold. Trump surrogate after Trump surrogate seems willing to go out and tell lies, both big and small. I don’t know if I should feel pity or anger. It’s clear that in Trump World, you’re expected to lie. It’s one thing to be a good carrier of the company line, but you’re not doing anybody any good if everyone knows you’re lying.
Watching the Trump backers defend Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the latest news cycle has been astonishing. The man touched Michelle Fields. Lewandowski said he didn’t, and his candidate defended him; but now the video reveals that he did. Period. Whether or not it’s a big deal is a different question — but the fact is, he lied. And the surrogates continue to lie, even when telling the truth would be easier and more helpful to their cause.
Surrogates take their cues from their boss, and Donald Trump prides himself on never backing down. Well, holding fast in defense of a lie is no virtue. Expecting others to lie on your behalf is not what leadership is about. Again, I don’t think the underlying incident is as big a deal as it’s being made out to be, but Trump’s willingness — or downright eagerness — to avoid the truth, and his expectations that his staff and allies will do the same, is a big issue. It suggests a larger problem that further disqualifies Trump as someone who should be considered a viable candidate for president of the United States.