During his daily press briefing on Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was given an opportunity to address the comments on Muslim immigrants made by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. Reading from a sheet of paper, Earnest offered the White House's big-picture opinion on Trump, attempting to link the real estate magnate's party to Trump's divisive words.
"The Trump campaign for months now has had a 'dustbin of history'-like quality to it," Earnest said. "From the vacuous sloganeering to the outright lies to even the fake hair, the whole carnival-barker routine that we've seen for some time now. The question now is about the rest of the Republican Party and whether or not they're going to be dragged into the dustbin of history with him. And right now, the trajectory is not very good."
When Earnest said the part about the "fake hair," there were a few chuckles in the room. But later in the press conference, NPR's Mara Liasson pressed him on it, the disbelief registering in her face as she asked the question.
LIASSON: This might be a little nit-picky, but in your prepared remarks you said something that struck me as very Trumpian and not very Obama-like, when you talked about Trump's fake hair.
That's a hallmark of Trump, to comment on somebody -- your opponent's appearance. It's not something that I would ever expect to come from the Obama White House. I'm just curious. This was in your prepared remarks. What was the thinking behind it?
EARNEST: I guess I was describing why it would be easy for people to dismiss the Trump campaign as not particularly serious.
LIASSON: Because of his hair!?
EARNEST: Because he's got a rather outrageous appearance, and...
LIASSON: But isn't that the kind of thing he does to people and that's considered so out of line, when he talks about people's appearances?
EARNEST: That's a hallmark of his campaign and his identity, though. That's the point that I'm trying to cite there.
UNKNOWN REPORTER: How do you know it's fake?
EARNEST: I guess I'm happy to be fact-checked.
Earnest's original comment about the hair seemed like a cheap joke of the sort we've seen literally thousands of times since Trump emerged in the public eye (much less during his campaign). Trump himself makes reference to comments about his hair being fake to the point of ridiculousness. It's a corny, well-worn dis.
So when Liasson called him on it, the smart thing to do would be to say something like, "Yeah, I know, cheap shot." But Earnest did not do that. He made it worse. "I was describing why it would be easy for people to dismiss the Trump campaign as not particularly serious," Earnest said -- because Trump's hair is unusual.
My job here is to explain why that makes no sense as an argument, particularly on the heels of Earnest pointing out the fact that Trump is prone to hyperbole, misrepresentation and arguments that seem contrary to the core philosophies of the United States. But I honestly don't know what to say about the White House's chief spokesman suggesting with a straight face that Donald Trump's hairdo demonstrates that his campaign is not serious.
I guess I'll just say: Really? Perhaps if Donald Trump's campaign slogan were "Make America Great Again, Like My Hair, Which Is Real" and then a strong wind gust blew a toupee off of his head, the contrast between Trump's "hallmark" identity and reality might prompt people to second-guess his candidacy. Otherwise? Nah.
Liasson is right that this is exactly what Trump himself does, when he bad-mouths Carly Fiorina's looks or when he told Rand Paul that there was "plenty of subject matter" if Trump chose to mock Paul's appearance. Does Earnest think that Rand Paul's also-weird hair (speaking objectively, I think) makes his entirely campaign "not particularly serious?"
The fact-check, by the way, is that there is no evidence that Trump's hair is fake. It's certainly that case that men of a certain age employ techniques to alter the appearance of their hair. It is also the case that the Democratic front-runner admits to dyeing hers.
You are nonetheless welcome to treat her campaign as serious.