By Quin Hillyer
If Donald Trump has an Achilles Heel, it might just be his propensity for lying.
We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill hyperbole, of the sort he has bragged about in the past. (“I promote bravado. I play to people’s fantasies.”). We’re talking outright whoppers – of the sort he told on a Thursday night conference call with several hundred Alabama Republican activists.
When one of somebody’s biggest selling points is that he supposedly “tells it like it is,” bald-faced lies have the potential to seriously erode the person’s brand.
Trump’s first and biggest, most demonstrably false claim Trump Thursday night came in an extended riff on how he’s supposedly not a politician.
“I was never thinking about running for office,” he said. “It just wasn’t on my mind.” In fact, he said, even three weeks before he announced, he would “not even have imagined” he would be running for president.
This is rich. This claim comes from a guy who actually filed papers to run for president on the Reform Party ticket for the 2000 election, and who publicly flirted with running for president in 1988, 2004, and 2012, and for governor of New York in 2006 and 2014. In 2013 he spent more than a million dollars researching a 2106 run for president, and of course he talked about it publicly for months this year before entering the race.
To which his supporters might shrug and say that’s just showmanship, a little bit of humbug for fun. But when the falsehoods keep coming at a rapid clip, at some point it gets old.
Another sheer fabrication from Trump Thursday night involved his repetition of his months-old claim that Jeb Bush somehow was involved in pushing his brother on the idea of appointing John Roberts to the Supreme Court. When Trump first made the claim in late June, reporters quickly challenged his campaign on the assertion – and the Trump camp did not, could not, substantiate it. The allegation is ludicrous. As anybody involved in the selection process can confirm, and as close observers knew while it was going on, Roberts needed no push from Jeb and received no push from Jeb – who was hardly closely involved in his brother’s administration.
In the call with the Alabamians, Trump also continued his string of falsehoods about top opponent Ben Carson. Completely gratuitously – nobody even mentioned Carson in a question, nor did the question lend itself to Trump talking about Carson – Trump repeated a line he’s been peddling lately: “Ben Carson has been a doctor and he hasn’t managed anything. Maybe he’s hired a nurse or two, but that’s about it.”
But Carson was hardly just a doctor. He was director of the whole department of pediatric neurosurgery – a major division – at Johns Hopkins, one of the top hospitals in the country, as well as co-director of the Craniofacial Center there. He has served on the boards of major corporations, including Kellogg and Costco; and he and his wife co-founded and have successfully managed a scholarship fund that has given away nearly $7 million towards college educations.
That’s hardly a lack of management experience. But it gets worse: Earlier on Thursday, Trump blasted the famously pro-life Carson for supposedly having a “horrendous” record on abortion. So said the businessman who for years described himself as strongly pro-choice and who even this summer still couldn’t rule out federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Trump also told the Alabamans that he would succeed in deporting 11 million (or more) illegal immigrants in just 18 months, based solely on his superior management skills. This doesn’t exactly qualify as a “lie,” since it’s an unverifiable promise for the future – but, even for those of us who favor enhanced deportation efforts, the promise nonetheless is so absurd, logistically and financially, as to represent extreme dishonesty.
Flagrant mendacity aside, though, Trump did at least show an increasing sensitivity toward the expectations of conservative Republicans. The man who once supported an assault weapons ban said the words “Second Amendment” again and again, even when it had nothing to do with what he was talking about. He blasted the idea of climate change, criticized EPA regulations, said he would not only keep Guantanamo Bay’s prison open but would “load it up” with more bad guys, and endorsed an enhanced space program (Alabama boast major space-related industries in Huntsville) because we need it for “military superiority.”
Then again, spouting conservatism was easy for him in this forum: Alabama Republican Party officials had pre-screened the questions, so there was chance for neither difficult queries nor follow-ups.
After all, if one isn’t really put on the spot, one is less likely to reach, in defense, for the nearest, handiest fib.