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Birther of a Campaign

The Donald takes New Hampshire.

May 9, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 32 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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One reporter asked Trump about statements he’s made in support of universal health care, progressive taxation, and other liberal shibboleths. Trump deployed the time-honored political tactic of pretending the reporter had never been born. “I’m a very strong conservative,” he said. “I think that I’m quite conservative as a Republican.” They say life is a voyage of discovery. Recently Trump has discovered he is pro-life, for limited government, and against Obamacare.

Another reporter asked Trump about an article in that morning’s Washington Post. Most of Trump’s political giving, the Post reported, has been to Democrats, including Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Harry Reid. Trump shrugged. “I’ve had a lot of friends who are Democrats, and a lot of friends who are Republicans,” he said. New York is a blue state, he added. His ideological and partisan elasticity may even be a strength. “When I watch Washington and see the way they fight like cats and dogs,” Trump said, he’s disgusted. “Now we’re at a stalemate. I think it’s time for people to sit down, get together, and fix this mess.”

The press conference was wide-ranging. Trump discussed Obama: “The word is, according to what I’ve read, that he was a terrible student at Occidental.” He took on the issues: “Education has always meant a lot to me. I think education is good.” He dabbled in foreign policy: Libya is a “total disaster”; China’s leaders are “much smarter” than ours. He mused on the nature of celebrity: “It’s very cool being a television star.” And he addressed the deficit: “The United States is broke.”

As he was talking, a black Chevy Suburban, a black stretch limo, and another black Suburban pulled up on the tarmac behind him.

“Mr. Trump, are you playing with us, or are we playing with you?” asked a reporter.

Trump pursed his lips, squinted, and pondered the question.

“I actually think you’re playing with me,” he said. Then he and his entourage piled into the waiting cars and drove away.

The caravan sped to the nearby Roundabout Diner and Lounge, a ’50s-style greasy spoon with checkered tablecloths and Golden Oldies playing in the background. The roadside grill was packed with breakfast regulars, as well as folks who’d shown up to see Donald Trump. That was easier said than done, because Trump toured the restaurant’s narrow aisles enveloped in an impenetrable bubble of cameras.

The flash photography was blinding. One second a dozen people would take pictures with their cell phones, the next second the photojournalists would do the same, and when your eyes recovered the first thing you saw was the back of a television camera about to decapitate you. Duck to avoid the camera, and the crowd would shove you against a table or the counter or a customer or one of Trump’s dirigible-sized guards. Amazingly, no one was harmed.

“Misteh Trump, we got a twenty-first birthday over hea’h!” someone shouted. Trump wished them well.

Someone else brought up Detroit. “You watch what’s going to happen with Detroit,” Trump said.

As the parade of cameras, reporters, and onlookers wound around the restaurant, I found myself trapped between Trump and a booth containing the members of an all-male coffee klatsch.

“Why aren’t you guys working?” Trump asked in mock outrage.

“We’re retired!” the men replied.

For the briefest of moments Trump seemed to be at a loss for words. I could almost see the wheels spinning in his head as he tried to come up with the politic thing to say: retired .  .  . coffee .  .  . old people .  .  . money .  .  . aha!

“Don’t touch Medicare, right?” Trump asked.

The men nodded their assent.

Trump met privately with a few voters in a back room. On the walls were two flat-screen televisions tuned to MSNBC, where David Gregory was analyzing Obama’s birth certificate. When Trump emerged from his meeting, he paused beneath one of the televisions to savor his victory. At last, after years of prodding and fantastic, paranoid conspiracism, Trump and the birthers had bent Obama to their will. “He should have done it a long time ago,” Trump said, to no one in particular. And then, just as quickly as they had arrived, Trump and his coterie were gone. The limo sped off to the next event.

The parking lot of the Roundabout Diner was strangely calm. A few stragglers milled about. Questions filled the air: Had the onlookers just witnessed a campaign stop, a celebrity-sighting, a publicity stunt, or all of the above? And who was playing with whom? And was it appropriate?

A blonde woman looked glum. She’d come to the diner to catch a glimpse of Trump but hadn’t anticipated the media would block her view. “I couldn’t see him,” she said. Then she thought about it some more. The morning hadn’t been a total loss, she realized. “I did see his hair.”

Matthew Continetti is opinion editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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