Of course Donald Trump went there. But should anyone be surprised?
In the wake of the terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee seemed to suggest that President Obama isn’t waging a war on terror because he doesn’t want the terrorists defeated; because Obama somehow sympathizes with their cause.
“He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other,” Trump told Fox News on Monday. “We're led by a man that either is, is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind.” Trump added, “People cannot — they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can't even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There's something going on. It's inconceivable."
Suggesting Obama won’t defend the homeland or try to keep Americans safe ranks among the most reckless allegations a politicians can make. What would the Democratic equivalent be, just in terms of pure shock value? It would be like if Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign claimed President George W. Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 terror attacks. It’s hard to even comprehend what the corresponding conspiracy claim would look like. And it’s unthinkable that a Democratic nominee would campaign on it.
But if Trump’s thinly veiled suggestion about Obama’s allegiance today has produced shock among political reporters and pundits, and if anyone in the media is surprised that a major party nominee would sink to such depths on the campaign trail, they shouldn’t be.
The sad fact is the right-wing media has been wallowing in this fever swamp for a very long time. (And yes, the press has mostly looked away from the radical turn.) Trump’s now just borrowing their hare-brained allegation suggesting Obama can’t be trusted to defend the American way of life because Obama doesn’t really endorse it, and he’s using the attack line as a general election talking point. (Candidates traditionally use surrogates if they want to lob dark, unseemly allegations against their opponent. Not Trump.)
Recall that Trump himself was a central protagonist in the birther charade of 2011 when he was going on Fox News and suggesting Obama was hiding his birth certificate “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”
Following widespread criticism, the Trump campaign is trying to walk things back with implausible explanations. Via spokeswoman Hope Hicks, Trump sent a statement to Bloomberg claiming he was “referring to the fact that at times President Obama seems more in support of Muslims than Israel.” (Trump also announced he was revoking The Washington Post’s press credentials for reporting on his comments yesterday.)
But his comments on Fox & Friends weren’t even the first time Trump has made bizarre insinuations about President Obama’s allegiances. Trump told right-wing radio host Michael Savage that perhaps Obama “doesn’t want to get rid of the problem” of Islamic terrorism. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on.” (Savage, for his part, thinks “someone” in the White House “is playing for the other side.”)
As Right Wing Watch reported, at a rally last November, Trump said about Obama’s handling of the alleged threat from Muslims, “We can’t close our eyes. I don’t know what’s wrong with Obama, he wants to close his eyes and pretend it’s not happening. Why is he so emphatic on not solving the problem? There’s something we don’t know about. There’s something we don’t know about.”
And it's not just Trump who's been wallowing in that outrageous rhetoric this election cycle. After the Paris terror attack last year, Ted Cruz claimed Obama "does not wish to defend this country." (A Cruz advisor claimed Obama had “switched sides” in the war against terror.)
Today there’s a certain irony in Trump trying to mainstream this ugly attack, considering Obama’s enjoying some of his highest approval ratings in years, confirming that the terrorist-sympathy claim resides on the fringes of American politics.
The disconcerting nonsense all stems from a failed, eight-year campaign by the right-wing media to portray Obama as foreign and an other, as not like you and me; to depict him as untrustworthy because he supposedly doesn’t subscribe to American values. It’s a claim that’s been embraced as the gospel among Fox News and GOP faithful.
“Barack Obama does not have the will of the American people, Americanism in his soul,” Fox News’ Keith Ablow once declared.
Obama haters have been told for years that not only does the president not love America, and doesn’t “give a shit” about protecting it from terror, but it’s probably because he tilts toward terrorist sympathies.
The day after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, when Fox News' Bill O’Reilly wondered why Obama refused to condemn radical Islam, radio host Bill Cunningham suggested “maybe his middle name is a clue, as well as the fact that he spent his childhood practicing the Muslim faith.”
Later that year when President Obama orchestrated the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Fox News’ Ablow denounced the move and speculated it happened because the commander-in-chief “doesn’t affiliate with patriotism” and “wants out of America.”
Last November, O’Reilly regular guest Dennis Miller claimed Obama wouldn’t get “nasty” with ISIS because the president has “Islamic sympathies,” while O’Reilly stressed, “he certainly doesn't want any part in the war on terror.”
And then there was Benghazi.
In the hours after the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Libya in September 2012, then-Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney staged a late-night press conference to attack Obama [emphasis added]:
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Candidate Romney only toyed with that premise in 2012. But for years, the fervent idea of Obama’s questionable sympathies became a strong undercurrent of the right-wing media’s Benghazi obsession. The churning, man-made controversy allowed Obama’s haters to project their ugliest fantasies and depict the president as a traitor who chose to let Americans die in Libya at the hands of Islamic terrorists.
This is nasty, vile right-wing media stuff. And now the Republican Party is championing it during an election year.