Donald Trump is, unfortunately, back in the news. In a talk on Tuesday at the National Press Club, where he was supposed to talk about branding, Trump instead used the spotlight to get political and hint at a 2016 Presidential campaign.
What most news outlets chose to ignore, but which such respectable bastions of journalistic integrity as Breitbart and the Daily Mail used as their ledes, was Trump once again returning to his well-established Birther-esque conspiracy theories about President Obama. Included in those comments was this statement:
"I offered him a tremendous amount of money just to show his records. I didn't want to see his marks; I just wanted to see place of birth....I offered five million dollars just to see some basic records. Not the marks, not the this, nothing. Just some basic things on applications to colleges. I'd love to see what's put down. Why didn't a man take five million dollars for his favorite charity? Now then what wasn't reported by the press is, sometime just prior to the expiration date of that offer, I raised the offer to $50 million dollars. $50 million! For charity! Pick your charity, $50 million dollars, let me see your records."
Although he still thinks the President might've been born in Kenya (and thus faked his birth certificate), Trump now says there's "a very good chance" that Obama was born in the United States but claimed he was born in Kenya, because "if you say you were born in Kenya, you got aid and you got into colleges. And people were doing that." This is boilerplate Birther rhetoric that's barely worth debunking (Since when are foreign students eligible for more college aid than US students? How would a young African American man with a Hawaii address and a Hawaiian high school diploma benefit by lying and claiming a Kenyan birthplace? And who are these phantom "people" who supposedly pulled this scam?). No, it's Trump's rewriting of his own history that's more notable here, particularly the brand-new "$50 million" amount that's never been mentioned before.
First, though, there's one other short statement of Trump's that deserves attention:
"He came out with a book that wasn't published. You remember the famous book. And it said, on the cover, A Young Man From Kenya, on the cover."
If PolitiFact were to grade this statement, it would be "Pants on Fire"-level false. Trump was probably attempting to refer to a 1991 promotional booklet from Obama's literary agent, which incorrectly stated his birthplace in his author bio, but Donald substitutes out every detail about it with his own fantasy version. There was no unpublished book titled A Young Man From Kenya, that phrase doesn't appear in the agent's bio, and the fact that he repeats the "on the cover" claim twice doesn't make it a double negative and turn the statement true. So he's completely wrong about the book, the cover, the title, and the phrase. It just solidifies that he has no clue what he's talking about, and doesn't particularly care about getting the facts right.
This completely fictionalized justification for his suspicions is particularly noteworthy as it's the ONLY justification he offered in his Press Club remarks for his doubts and demands regarding President Obama. (Back in 2011, when Trump was demanding that Obama release his long-form birth certificate, he similarly justified his doubts about Obama's past with allegations that PolitiFact deemed "False", "False", and "Pants on Fire" false.) He also ignores the dozens of documents, from before and after 1991, that were 100% consistent in stating that Obama was born in Hawaii.
As for those demands, Trump appears to be as incapable of accurately recalling his own history as he is of the President's. Because his account of his pre-election charitable offer not only veers wildly from what actually happened, but it serves to further confirm what a farce it was.
On October 19, 2012, Trump tweeted that "I'll be making a major announcement on President Obama next week—stay tuned!" Speculation ran rampant, with the Daily Mail claiming that the announcement would involve divorce papers from Michelle Obama (it didn't), but Trump would only say that his bombshell announcement would be "a big fact" and "It's very big. Bigger than anybody would know."
The suspense was broken on October 24, when Trump posted a YouTube video where he announced that President Obama...would receive a $5 million check from Trump for the charity of his choice if he would give Trump "all of his college records and applications" and "all of his passport records and applications." The deadline for compliance was 5 pm on October 31. He further said that the $5 million check would be delivered when all records were "complete" and received "to my satisfaction."
Because nothing says "You can totally trust this offer" like making the payment of the millions of dollars completely conditional on the vague and subjective satisfaction of the person who stands to lose those millions of dollars.
That wasn't the only problem with Trump's offer, either. Obama enrolled in Occidental College in 1979, and in Columbia University in 1981. What colleges keep undergraduate applications for 30+ years? If either university simply threw away an ancient application, Obama would be unable to meet the "complete" condition of Trump's offer. Trump explicitly grounded his offer in the claim that Obama had spent millions of dollars to keep these records hidden, a claim he'd made previously and that PolitiFact had already declared "False" eighteen months earlier. He also hinted at doubts about the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate, and claimed that both John McCain and Hillary Clinton "were strong in demanding [his birth certificate's] release" in 2008, which was 100% false. Trump can't even play the bad memory card here; neither McCain nor Clinton ever even mentioned Obama's birth certificate in 2008, much less demanded to see it. This is just a case of Trump imagining things and pretending they're true.
He also had this to say on Facebook: "Virtually all Presidents and candidates including John McCain, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush have released the requested records. Why not President Obama?" But, in actuality, NONE of those other four men had released ANY of the documents he was asking for. George W. Bush's Yale records were leaked, not voluntarily released. His Yale application wasn't released, nor were any records from Harvard Business School. No college records for McCain, Clinton, or George H.W. Bush were ever released. And as far as I can tell, no President or Presidential candidate has EVER released any passport records. Again, Trump seems to live in a parallel world where he remembers an entire alternate U.S. history.
And naturally, nothing about Trump's "offer" remotely lived up to the promises and hype he'd issued just days earlier. After all the speculation as to what October Surprise Trump might have up his sleeve, and media attention from major television and newspaper and web outlets, it turned out that he had absolutely nothing. So much nothing, in fact, that he was reduced to ASKING the President to simply hand over documents that he HOPED would be politically damaging.
Now contrast his October 2012 remarks with what Trump said this week. Trump claimed on Tuesday that he asked to see "just some basic things on applications to colleges." Not even Obama's grades. But of course, that's completely untrue. Because Trump asked not only for Obama's college applications, but also for his college records. His complete college records, which would of course include his grades. And his passport applications. And his passport records. So claiming he was only asking for "some basic things on applications" is just a big fat lie.
(Naturally, in typical conspiracy theorist fashion, his passport demands aren't even consistent with his overarching theory. Even if one were to assume that a college applicant might lie and claim an exotic birthplace, why would an native-born American lie and claim an foreign birthplace when applying for a U.S. passport?)
After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Trump took to Twitter on October 30 and said that due to the aftermath of the storm, he was extending his offer beyond October 31, and would instead allow Obama a whole additional 19 hours to comply. But the offer still stood at $5 million. Then on October 31, he tweeted "President Obama, if it is important to you, I will substantially increase the $5M offer!" No hints as to what he meant by "substantially increase" though.
In a November 1 "press release" he posted to Facebook, he opened by reiterating his "five million dollar offer", though in the second paragraph he makes a parenthetical reference to "five million dollars (or much more"). In a subsequent YouTube video, he again stated the offer was for "five million dollars, or as I stated, potentially much more than five million dollars." In neither case did he say how much more than five million was being offered, or what was meant in saying "potentially."
Nowhere (until this Tuesday) did Donald Trump ever publicly say he was offering $50 million. Even in his own public statements, he continued to cite the $5 million figure. And yet, now he claims that the press wouldn't report on his supposed increased offer. The increased offer that he never actually said out loud.
In other words, Donald Trump is blaming the press for failing to read his mind. And if this entire sideshow has proven one thing, it's that you probably wouldn't want to be in Donald Trump's mind. It seems to be a very strange place, with a rather tenuous relationship with reality.
Still, the $50 million figure does accomplish one thing: it confirms how this was always a farce even on Trump's part. Might Donald Trump be crazy enough to pay $5 million days before the Presidential election, in the faint hopes that something in Obama's records might be politically damaging (a low grade in political science, an embarrassing elective class), rather than completely mundane? Not likely, but not impossible.
But would Donald Trump ever be willing to write a $50 million check despite the fact that Obama's records would all simply say "Birthplace: Honolulu"? Not a chance. Donald Trump may not appreciate things like facts and common sense, but he didn't get to be rich by being stupid with money. He could toss out any number he wanted to, because he knew his conditions would never be met. Saying that he was willing to pay $50 million doesn't prove how serious he was; it proves that he was NEVER serious. And yet the national media continue to treat what him like someone worthy of serious attention.
Finally, a flashback of sorts. Back in 2011, on ABC's The View, Trump claimed that no one remembered Obama growing up, and demanded to be shown a picture of young Barry. So in response, I made the following video, offering up a few dozen: