“Did Obama assassinate Scalia?” just became a serious question in the Republican primary

Donald Trump: Scalia death truther.

Not satisfied with the explanation that sometimes overweight 79 year-olds die in their sleep, Donald Trump lent credence to the conspiracy theory that the recently-deceased Supreme Court justice was murdered. By Obama.

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Asked by conservative shock jock Michael Savage if we need “the equivalent of a Warren Commission” to investigate whether Scalia was murdered, with the added implication that the Obama administration had something to do with it, here’s what Trump said:

Well I just heard today… you know I just landed and I’m hearing it’s a big topic…But they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow. I can’t tell you– I can’t give you an answer.

Antonin Scalia, via Wikimedia Commons

Antonin Scalia, via Wikimedia Commons

To be clear, this is Trump’s version of avoiding a ridiculous question. To be clearer, Trump’s version of avoiding ridiculous questions accepts those questions’ premises, which often sounds like he isn’t actually avoiding them and is instead answering in the affirmative. This isn’t the first time that Trump has been asked a positively bonkers question and, rather than flatly rejecting it outright, has said something that walked right up to the line of adopting the bonkers position.

In the past, this not-so-evasive evasion strategy has served to normalize ridiculous claims — particularly among his own supporters. There’s a reason why Public Policy Polling just found that Trump voters in South Carolina support banning Muslims from entering the United States, creating a national database of Muslims and shutting down mosques. Those ideas all have their roots in Trump responding to those questions — posed as far-reaching hypotheticals — by saying they were things we’d have to “strongly consider.” Even if he would “hate to do” them.

Now, even though he “can’t give you an answer,” Trump does find the circumstances surrounding Scalia’s death “pretty unusual.” He’s not saying Obama killed Scalia; he just finds the idea interesting — perhaps something we should “strongly consider.”

Just to be clear, the idea that President Obama had Antonin Scalia assassinated because of an oddly-placed pillow requires one to believe the following:

  • That President Obama was so stupid that he would wait until the last year of his term to off a Supreme Court justice
  • That President Obama was so stupid that he chose to kill the oldest conservative on the Court
  • That whomever killed Scalia was so stupid that they chose pillow-smothering as their preferred assassination technique
  • That whomever killed Scalia was so stupid that they didn’t reposition the murder weapon to cover their tracks

You have to believe all of those things, while also believing that President Obama is arrogant and evil enough to think he could and should kill a Supreme Court justice and get away with it.

By lending credence to this whacked-out conspiracy theory, Trump just made it a campaign issue. He just took Rubio’s claim that President Obama “knows what he’s doing” in taking “deliberate actions to destroy our country” and turned it up to 11. Not only is President Obama trying to destroy America from within, he might be willing to kill political opponents in order to consolidate power.

And now every Republican candidate is going to have to follow Trump’s lead and say whether they think this is the case. Given the opinions held by the people they expect to vote for them, there’s a non-zero chance that a few of them say yes.

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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