Commentary Magazine


Cynically Sparring with Trump

It’s true that President Obama made Donald Trump look like even more of a fool than usual today. But by responding to his birther lunacy, is the president also intentionally trying to elevate Trump’s status in the Republican Party? That’s the conclusion some political consultants have reached, according to Politico’s Ben Smith:

Many members of both parties, though, saw a potential advantage to Obama in the move, which was timed, deliberately or not, to position Trump—whom two thirds of Americans told Gallup they will “definitely not” vote for—as the face of the GOP. “The birther game was always a sucker bet, and it always played to Obama’s political advantage,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who made some of the sharpest personal attacks on Obama in 2008 for an outside Republican group. “ Team Obama love[s] the way this kept up the ‘Logical Obama vs Nutty Birthers’ dynamic. They got the chance to smear all GOP candidates with the birther brush.”

If that’s actually the case, it wouldn’t be the first time Obama has tried this tactic. Remember back in 2009, the administration’s gleeful assertion that Rush Limbaugh was the “de facto” leader of the GOP? And at the moment, there is certainly nobody the Obama administration would love to paint as the head of the Republican Party more than Donald Trump, who is widely disliked on a national scale.

Whether or not this is the strategy, the Democrats seem oddly eager to directly engage Trump. “Donald Trump said he’d release his tax returns as soon as the president released his birth certificate, so the ball is in his court now and I know everybody is anxious to see his tax returns over the last 10 years,” Robert Gibbs said today, according to Politico.

And while there’s no indication that Republicans are willing to accept the idea that Trump is a serious candidate, Obama’s back-and-forth with him could further obscure the already-muddy waters of the GOP presidential field. While the other candidates are diligently campaigning, the administration is sucking the media attention away from them by sparring with someone who has almost no chance of winning a national election. As far as political strategies go, this is about as cynical as you can get—but it could be Obama’s intention.

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