Late last week, as Donald Trump made claims about the U.S. crime rate that were demonstrably untrue, many began to wonder why the campaign was presenting fiction as fact. Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, said the FBI's data may show a steady decline in the crime rate, but Americans shouldn't necessarily trust the FBI. Federal law enforcement, Manafort argued, is "suspect these days."
Three days later, Don Trump Jr. appeared on CNN in his official capacity as a campaign surrogate, and Jake Tapper reminded him that not only has the crime rate improved, but "unemployment is much, much lower than when President Obama took office. Trump Jr. wasn't impressed.
"These are artificial numbers, Jake. These are numbers that are massaged to make the existing economy look good and make the administration look good when in fact it's a total disaster."
It prompted the Huffington Post's Sam Stein to note, "So, to be clear, the Trump campaign trusts the National Enquirer but not the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
It's a good line, which has the benefit of being true. Donald Trump Sr. was singing the National Enquirer's praises on Friday, touting the tabloid's credibility, when talking up his conspiracy theory involving Ted Cruz's father and the JFK assassination. Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. said the Labor Department is "massaging" the job numbers.
This has been a common complaint among far-right voices who've struggled to explain President Obama's jobs record. The conspiracy theory is common enough to have picked up a label: "Unemployment truthers."
But in this case, we can go one step further.
When introducing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) as his running mate, Trump had one talking point he was especially proud of: "Indiana, their unemployment rate has fallen, when he was there, when he started, 8.4% when he was governor, when he took over, to less than 5% in May of 2016."
Now, an objective look at Indiana's numbers is less complimentary. As we talked about last week, while Indiana's economy has done very well in the Obama era, the unemployment rate in the Hoosier State is actually slightly higher, not lower, than the national average.
But putting that aside, what's the source of those Indiana numbers with which Trump is so impressed? That would be the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the same government agency Trump Jr. accused of "massaging" data and releasing "artificial numbers."
In other words, when it comes to the Trump campaign, when federal officials release job numbers that make President Obama look successful, those numbers should be ignored. When federal officials release job numbers that make Mike Pence look successful, those numbers should be celebrated.
As we joked the other day, it's as if the Trump campaign is taking on Hillary Clinton and independent data with equal vigor.