Washington (CNN)Buried in a New York Times piece seeking to explain why President Donald Trump is defending embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama is this eye-opening paragraph:
“He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)”
In case you took up residence on another planet last fall, the existence of the “Access Hollywood” tape — in which Trump can be heard telling Billy Bush that women let you do anything to them when you are a “star” — was first reported by The Washington Post in early October. It immediately set off a firestorm in the presidential race, with scads of Republican elected officials rescinding their support for Trump and calling on him to leave the race.
He, of course, did not. What he did do, however, was apologize for the comments — writing them off as “locker room talk” and adding: “Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close.”
Trump did not then contest the authenticity of the audio recording. Neither did Billy Bush or anyone else associated with the incident. Plus, anyone listening to the audio — you can do that here — hears what is quite clearly Trump’s voice saying things like “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there” and “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
But, apparently, Trump now believes that, somehow, the tape is either false or has been doctored. And, not only that, but, according to the Times report, Trump has shared his theory with at least one adviser and a sitting US senator. (What I wouldn’t pay to be a fly on the wall of that conversation!)
The Times story doesn’t detail what, exactly, Trump believes to be false or inauthentic in the “Access Hollywood” tape or why he didn’t make these claims when the tape initially appeared more than a year ago.
It’s possible, of course, that Trump has done some sort of forensic analysis of the audio tape and discovered what he believes to be a genuine glitch — which, in turn, drives these suspicions.
But, it’s much, much much (much) more likely that Trump is simply creating a conspiracy theory — based on little or no evidence — that suits his purposes.
Remember that Trump’s entire political life was birthed — ahem — by a conspiracy theory. Trump rose to notoriety in conservative circles by seizing on the idea that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump used his platform — afforded to him by years of self-promotion and reality TV success — to push the issue from a handful of right-wing blogs and message boards into the mainstream media.
So effective was Trump that Obama himself was forced to respond — holding an event in 2011 in the White House briefing room in which he showed his birth certificate.
Trump has dabbled in conspiracy theories of all sorts — when they serve his political purposes — ever since. Muslims celebrating on the roofs of New Jersey building on September 11, 2001. Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination. Obama ordering a wiretap on his phones at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. And a hundred other small — and not-so-small — moments in which Trump has flirted with or outright embraced ideas that are only tangentially tied to known and accepted facts.
And now, this. The idea that somehow, someway an audio tape that no one — up to and including Trump — questioned when it was revealed is fake.
Trump’s evidence for this claim — at least the evidence he has made public — is zilch. But, for his base of supporters, the very fact that he said it is evidence enough. Facts be damned!
What’s dangerous about all of this, of course, is a) eliminating established facts in favor of self-serving conspiracy theories tears at the fabric of civilized society and b) Trump knows exactly what he is doing.
He has spent his entire adult life — and maybe his entire life — telling himself and anyone else a story about himself. The story is filled with massive exaggerations, gross mischaracterizations and, sometimes, outright lies. But, to Trump, the very fact that he is telling it makes it true.
That’s a relatively harmless trait in a private citizen/celebrity. It’s far more damaging when it’s a defining trait of the president of the United States.
Updated 11:46 AM ET, Mon November 27, 2017