Donald Trump can’t take it when Trump-style falsehoods are directed at him

Hillary Clinton dropped a bold claim in Saturday night’s debate:

We also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that [Donald] Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

Has the Islamic State used footage of Donald Trump in any recruitment videos? Maybe! But thus far there is no evidence for that specific claim. However, there’s certainly a certain air of truthiness to the gist of what Hillary Clinton was saying: Donald Trump’s explicitly anti-Muslim platform is exactly the kind of thing that the terror organization would use to make their point to potential recruits that the West — and America, in particular, is hostile to Islamic faith and culture. To that point, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric absolutely does have Islamic terror organizations’ attention, and they are absolutely discussing it on social media. They just haven’t put Trump in a video yet, as far as we know.

Hell, Trump himself said that he “probably radicalized” one of the San Bernardino shooters with his Muslim-focused policy proposals. So even he buys into the general idea that when you call an entire group of people dangerous and bad, people who identify with that group get pissed off.

Nevertheless, Trump is positively furious that someone other than himself pointed that out:

Trump may be right that there “never was a video” of the Islamic State using him as a recruitment tool. Just like there “never was a video” of “thousand of people” in New Jersey cheering on September 11th when the World Trade Center was falling. That’s what makes this particular exchange interesting: Clinton is levying the same kind of off-the-cuff attack against Trump as he’s been throwing around at random throughout his campaign. The charge is impossible to completely disprove, and is backed by little more than its perceived plausibility by supporters of the candidate making the claim.

But now, all of a sudden, Trump is concerned about the complete and absolute truth. How adorable.

In true Trumpian fashion, Hillary Clinton’s campaign isn’t backing down. As her campaign chairman, John Podesta, told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday:

Donald Trump

Donald Trump, via lev radin / Shutterstock.com

Well, look, Chuck, your own network ran a piece citing the most important organization that follows ISIS on social media that said that they’re using social media, they’re using Donald Trump as a recruitment tool, so that’s what she was referencing, and that’s the interpretation we made.

I think that if you look at what’s going on in the Middle East, the fact that Mr. Trump is on television all the time, the fact that ISIS is using him as a recruitment tool is a very fair charge.

Notice that Podesta isn’t quite speaking to the veracity of Clinton’s specific claim that an Islamic State propaganda video featuring Donald Trump actually exists. Instead, he’s speaking to the plausibility of such a claim, as well as to the general notion that Trump has, on balance, made similar propaganda more effective. Insofar as Podesta didn’t admit that Clinton was wrong about the existence of a video, while maintaining that her general point was correct, he doubled down on her claim. For months, Trump surrogates have employed this strategy brilliantly.

But now that it’s being directed at him, it seems as though Trump simply can’t handle it.

Politics ain’t beanbag. That Hillary (predictably) got under Trump’s skin with a Trump-style attack should be a signal for his Republican opponents that if you want to take him down, you’re going to have to be better than he is at his own game.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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