Decoding Donald Trump's Conspiracy Talk
Lots of politicians are conspiracy theorists, but Trump brings his own style to the game.
Yesterday, Donald Trump hinted that the president may have welcomed the slaughter of 49 clubgoers in Florida this past weekend. "He doesn't get it, or he gets it better than anybody understands," he said on Fox and Friends. "It's one or the other."
What's interesting here isn't that Trump was playing footsie with a conspiracy theory. Lots of politicians have spouted conspiracy theories, including Trump's Democratic opponent—though Trump does tend to be more brazen about it. John Kerry has doubts about the Warren Commission report, but he generally refrains from discussing those thoughts in public; Donald Trump will merrily imply in the middle of an interview that Ted Cruz's dad was mixed up with the JFK assassination, citing The National Enquirer as his source. But that's ultimately just another side of Trump's flamboyant, he'll-say-anything persona.
What's really interesting here is the particular sorts of paranoia that Trump is invoking. Those comments weren't just a bit of dark speculation about Obama's loyalties. They were an off-the-cuff encapsulation of one of the core components of Trumpism.
I have a piece in the Los Angeles Times this morning exploring Trump's breed of conspiracy rhetoric. Here's an excerpt:
Trump at his core is a nationalist, and nationalists are especially likely to embrace Enemy Outside stories. In these tales, the conspirators are based outside the community's gates; if they're not out to conquer your country, they at least aim to subvert and outwit it. Listen to any Trump speech, and you're likely to hear some version of this. China is plotting against us. Mexico is deliberately dumping its criminals on our side of the border. Syria's refugees are a jihadist Trojan horse.
Such stories are central to Trump's worldview—and to his sales pitch. "I have great respect for China, but their leaders are too smart for our leaders," he tells us. "Our leaders don't have a clue." That quote comes from his Super Tuesday victory speech, but he has said the same thing in countless ways on countless days: We're being led by weaklings and naifs; I'll be the tough, smart commander the nation needs. Vote for Trump!