Even before he became the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump demonstrated a talent for hijacking news cycles that would otherwise have been focused on negative stories about Hillary Clinton.
His attacks on the Hispanic judge hearing a fraud case about Trump University stepped all over a damning Inspector General’s report about Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Previous outbursts from Trump have intruded on news cycles that would have been dominated by discussion of the Benghazi investigation or other revelations in the email scandal.
Over the weekend, Trump managed to do it again.
On Saturday, Clinton spent three and a half hours being interviewed by FBI agents about her private email server. It was, to be sure, a truly unprecedented event for a major party presidential candidate to submit to an FBI grilling over her handling of classified materials, and the Trump team’s strategy should have been to put out a statement questioning Clinton’s trustworthiness, and then to turn off their cellphones and go play golf.
Instead, Trump decided to tweet out an image of Clinton that appears to have originated on a neo-Nazi internet message board. It shows Clinton’s head superimposed on a field of $100 bills with the words “History made” above and below. At the side, the words “Most corrupt candidate ever!” are written in white letters on a red Star of David.
The image was deleted after the Trump campaign began to hear complaints that it appeared to play on anti-Semitic stereotypes, including covert Jewish influence in U.S. politics. It was later reposted with the star replaced by a circle.
But the damage was done. Trump’s surrogates, who would have preferred to be talking about Clinton’s visit with the FBI, instead were forced to explain how their candidate came to be tweeting an image that, as it turns out, was first posted on the “/pol” forum of the internet message board 8chan. That specific forum appears to be dominated by anti-Semitic and racist members.
There is no way of knowing how the image migrated from one of the seedier corners of the internet to Trump’s Twitter feed. It’s farfetched to imagine that Trump himself is a secret anti-Semite trolling those forums given that his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and is raising three of Trump’s grandchildren in the faith. However, in a campaign that has seen Trump call out people based on their ethnicity as well as their religion, it raised still more questions about his judgment.
Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, now a paid contributor to CNN, defended the campaign, calling the reaction to the post on Twitter an example of “political correctness run amok” and suggested that it might actually have been a reference to law enforcement, because a six-pointed star is often used for the badges of sheriffs and other police agencies.
“This is the same star that sheriff's departments all over the country use to represent law enforcement,” he said. “You're reading into something that isn't there.”
But the idea that Trump is a bigot has been a problem for his campaign since long before this weekend, and has repeatedly distracted him and his supporters from running an effective campaign.
It has also allowed his detractors — and now even a fellow presidential nominee — to use words to describe him that would have been practically unthinkable in the past.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, was asked about Trump in a CNN interview Sunday morning. After a discussion of Trump’s comments about ethnic and religious minorities over the course of the campaign, which he called “incendiary,” host Brianna Keilar asked Johnson directly if he believes Trump himself is a racist.
“Based on his statements, clearly,” Johnson replied.