To endorse or not to endorse? That is the question haunting establishment Republicans as they are faced with the increasingly likely prospect of real estate mogul Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee.
And as the GOP's leaders grapple with the risks versus rewards of backing such a polarizing candidate, there have been several stories — some circulated by Trump himself — of endorsements for the front-runner from high profile names and institutions that have turned out to be false. The unpredictable and unconventional nature of Trump's campaign seems to invite these kinds of Internet hoaxes, which could prove problematic should his run extend into the fall.
For instance, after Trump heaped praise on embattled former MLB star Pete Rose and then tweeted a photo of what appeared to be a signed baseball from the Cincinnati Reds' star with his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" scrawled on it, it was widely interpreted as an endorsement. But less than 24 hours later, Rose's attorney told NBC News that not only had the all-time hits leader not endorsed Trump, he never sent him any memorabilia.
Earlier this week, the Internet was buzzing about what turned out to be a doctored photo of Hollywood icon Harrison Ford holding a pro-Trump sign. In reality the "Star Wars" star was holding up a message which read "Hello Reddit" as part of a promotion for an "Ask Me Anything" session on the site last year.
Ford has been a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates and causes and openly mocked Trump last year for romanticizing his role in the 1997 action blockbuster "Air Force One."
"Donald, it was a movie," Ford joked. "It's not like this in real life. But how would you know?"
Even the hip-hop community has been roped into the confusion. Hip-hop artist Foxy Brown is furious with the press after it was reported in the New York Daily News that she would be doing "a lot" for the Trump campaign. Later, on Instagram, Brown insisted: "In no way am I endorsing Trump."
“What was supposed to be a celebratory interview turned into a Trump grabbing headline cuz that's what sells papers,” she wrote on social media. “Per usual, the media sensationalizes everything, yet no mention of my glowing remarks regarding Hillary Clinton or my profound respect and admiration for Bernie Sanders. Shame on the media!”
Last October, actor Anthony Mackie, who stars in "Captain America: Civil War," had to explain that he was only kidding when he told a BET interviewer “I would 100 percent want to run Trump’s campaign,” and that he drank the candidate's "Kool-Aid" and jumped on his "bandwagon." He eventually tweeted: "Sorry Donald, that wasn’t an endorsement. Just a bad attempt at a joke, I guess?"
And then there have been a series of anything-but-genuine photoshopped pro-Trump testimonials from the likes of Brittany Spears, Taylor Swift, even the gecko from the GEICO commercials:
Celebrity endorsement ambiguity is nothing new — or party specific. For instance, comic actor Will Ferrell was for Sen. Bernie Sanders before he was against him this cycle. But Slate's Amanda Hess argues that because Trump supporters are often mistrustful of traditional news media and its reporting (to a certain degree due to the candidate's goading), they are therefore uniquely susceptible to inaccurate information.
"Thanks to the creativity, drive, and/or willful ignorance of Trump's Internet-based troops, any statement can be twisted to praise the GOP front-runner. These aren’t just dirty tactics to get Trump elected at all costs. They’re a big part of what makes supporting Trump feel like a fun, lawless ride," she wrote in a recent column, citing fake Trump endorsements from conservative columnist Peggy Noonan and legendary pilot Chuck Yeager as examples.
Of course Trump does have his fair share of famous fans, but that hasn't stopped him from overreaching a bit. In one instance, he claimed to have NFL quarterback Tom Brady's support — only to have the New England Patriots star publicly contradict him. And last fall, he touted the endorsement of The Harvard Crimson in what turned out to be an elaborate prank perpetrated by The Harvard Lampoon.
The fact that Trump fell for the Lampoon's ruse, and has either retweeted or repeated easily debunked information in the past — such as his recent allegation that a protester at one of his rallies was linked to ISIS — has raised questions about his judgment. Vox's Ezra Klein even went so far as to suggest that he is "too gullible" to be president.
"His tendency to solicit, repeat, and retweet self-serving falsehoods served up by sycophants and hangers-on should be taken seriously," wrote Klein. "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."
Still, for now, Trump seems to be sticking by his most trusted adviser — himself. After all, it's gotten him this far.