The only thing Donald Trump loves more than conspiracy theories is conspiracy theories in which he gets to pretend he’s a victim. For this president, wildly connecting imaginary dots is satisfying, but doing so while feeling sorry for himself is sublime.
As the investigation into the Russia scandal has unfolded, the president has tried to come up with various theories apparently intended to make himself feel better. Obama, we were told, wiretapped the phones at Trump Tower. And nefarious forces were out to get poor Carter Page. And Susan Rice was secretly committing crimes against him. And assorted FBI officials may have committed “treason.” [Update: Simon Maloy put together a longer and better list on this.]
The assorted nonsense came and went, which in Trump’s mind, simply created a vacuum. Indeed, it recently became time to craft a new conspiracy theory that the president could play with, and he apparently decided to go for broke: federal law enforcement, he claimed without evidence, “infiltrated” his 2016 campaign, “implanting” a “spy” in his operation “for political purposes.”
Sitting alongside the president of South Korea in the Oval Office yesterday, Trump argued:
“A lot of people are saying [the Justice Department] had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country. That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen, and it would be very illegal, aside from everything else. It would make, probably, every political event ever look like small potatoes.”
Last night and this morning, the president published a series of angry messages on Twitter, elaborating on his new plaything.
“If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal… Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win - just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!
“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!
“ ‘It’s clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump Campaign’ Judge Andrew Napolitano. SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history! ‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign’ No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot! … WITCH HUNT!”
Remember, he wants the public to believe he’s a “very stable genius.”
It’s tempting to fact-check some of the more ridiculous aspects of this. We could point out, for example, that his claims about a “spy” in his campaign appear to be a bizarre fantasy based on Trump’s confusion about the nature of the investigation into his operation – an investigation that was created because of the number of people inside Trump World suspected of serious wrongdoing.
We could also point out that he misquoted former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. We could even note that the president still doesn’t seem to understand what a “witch hunt” is, and that there is no actual “scandal” called “Spygate.”
But even if we did explain all of this in detail, it wouldn’t much matter, because Trump has reached the point in his conspiracy-theory narrative at which he wouldn’t understand anyway.
Instead, the president has convinced himself that Obama dispatched spies into the Trump campaign, manufactured dirt on the Republican, and somehow forgot to make use of the information before Election Day. Many congressional Republicans are gladly playing along, as if this weren’t a crackpot story, attacking the investigation and targeting federal law enforcement.
If it all seems bewildering, that’s very likely the point – because to consider the Russia scandal and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on the merits is to recognize that Trump and his cohorts can’t seem to come up with a compelling response to serious allegations.