Birtherism and the undecideds


For ten minutes last night the formally disgraced NBC anchor Bryan Williams let the sheet metal cadences of his voice glint with excitement. They had a scoop: Donald Trump’s surrogates acknowledged that Barack Obama was born in the United States. In any other campaign season the news would be of the “BREAKING NEWS: Water wet” kind, but thanks to the cotton-haired charlatan heading the remains of a national party and the clickbait environment in which we live this announcement had to lead today’s newscast.

Like goldfish nipping at food in a bowl, “Morning” Joe Scarborough and “Mika” Brzezinski didn’t disappoint, for they had a talent for following conventional wisdom. When will Donald Trump himself say the president was born in Hawaii? became the question. Kellyanne Conway, already being transformed into the new Karl Rove or at least the new Lee Atwater, had righted Trump’s sputtering campaign; how could she allow this to happen now that reporters are no longer on Hillary Clinton deathwatch? Nevertheless it was agreed – I use the passive voice because the symphony of sighs around the table coalesced around no person and because Mark Halperin has shown little sign that he’s a he or she – that Trump would admit, begrudgingly, that the president is who he says he is and not a Kenyan agitator.

But these chuckleheads missed the point. Leave it to wily old Bill Kristol, who tweeted : “Trump retreats from birtherism, gets credit for being more responsible, undecideds decide he’s more acceptable.” Every time he renounces bullshit or acts as if he never said the bullshit it makes him gauzier to the six undecided people in America, according to the campaign. I’m sure that’s the strategy, for Kristol’s a master of this kind of skullduggery. But undecideds’ accepting a putative Trump renunciation assumes their stupidity. Josh Marshall:

If someone says for years that blacks have smaller brains and are only fit for menial labor or that Jews are parasites and greedy by nature and then finally says “Okay, maybe not, I’m not gonna say that anymore”, who cares? If such racist agitation is ever to be forgiven it’s only with a true recantation and apology and an explanation of why that person said and did such terrible things for so long. If you’re now apologizing, well, why did you say such a thing? You must have known it was wrong, right? Have you really had a change of heart? Or is this just convenient? If someone says, well, I just ran some new tests and I can now say the greedy thing isn’t true. So I know longer believe that and by the way, you’re welcome, Jews, I’m sure you appreciate my clearing that up. No one would take this as an apology or recantation but rather a new offense.

I could get cynical and write, “Well, but voters are stupid.” Many are. But it strains my imagination to think of any voter who after today will think, “Whew, OK, now that’s over. I’ll vote for him.” After all, the other purpose of the strategy, such as it is, is to keep his name alive for another day, another news cycle. Even during the primaries wooing voters has never been Trump’s thing; wooing voters disgusts him. He wants to win – win what, I’m not sure he knows.

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