A couple of months ago in Ohio, a man rushed the stage where Donald Trump was speaking, prompting Secret Service agents to intervene to protect the Republican candidate. Trump soon after claimed the man has ties to ISIS, pointing to online evidence that turned out to be a hoax.
On “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked the candidate about his wiliness to substantiate odds claims with bogus proof. “I don’t know,” Trump replied. “What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the Internet.”
That phrasing came to mind again this morning when Trump appeared on “Good Morning America” and was asked about his latest conspiracy theory involving Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination. TPM reported:
Donald Trump on Wednesday morning would not apologize for referencing a National Enquirer story alleging that Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), was seen with Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.“All I was doing was referring to a picture that was reported and in a magazine, and I think they didn’t deny it. I don’t think anybody denied it,” Trump said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” when asked if he owed Rafael Cruz an apology. “I don’t know what it was exactly, but it was a major story in a major publication, and it was picked up by many other publications.”
It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at stuff like this, but I think it matters. Trump’s conspiracy theories are key to understanding who he is and how he sees the world. His bizarre affinity for ridiculous ideas isn’t just some random personality quirk; they’re definitional.
MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin did a nice job yesterday cataloging Trump’s “obsession with race-baiting conspiracy theories” – it’s not a short list – but Sarlin raised a related point that stood out for me: “Even by normal political standards, Trump’s relationship with the truth is abusive…. The GOP presidential front-runner, whether by choice or by nature, appears fundamentally unable to distinguish between credible sources and chain e-mails.”
That’s both true and important. Donald Trump, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party, bears a striking resemblance to that weird friend you have on Facebook who keeps sharing wild-eyed, all-caps tirades about some new conspiracy uncovered in the fever swamps.
After all, Trump only knows “what’s on the Internet.”
Vox’s Ezra Klein had a good piece on this yesterday, explaining, “There’s plenty of good information on the internet. Trump has a repeated habit of choosing bad information, both on and offline.”
His tendency to solicit, repeat, and retweet self-serving falsehoods served up by sycophants and hangers-on should be taken seriously. Among the most important tasks the president has is knowing what to believe, whom to listen to, which facts to trust, and which theories to explore. Trump’s terrible judgment in this regard is one of the many reasons he’s not qualified for the office.Trump’s record here also undermines the strongest argument for his candidacy: that his showman’s persona is just a front, and at heart he’s a calm, thoughtful, coolheaded businessman who will surround himself with the best people and govern in a pragmatic, results-oriented fashion.
The difference between someone who believes nonsensical chain emails – and bizarre reports in supermarket tabloids, for that matter – and someone who doesn’t is critical thinking skills. The fact that the GOP’s leading presidential hopeful is lacking in this area should be alarming to American voters.