Monday night's debate moderator, NBC's Lester Holt, asked Donald Trump why he "perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen." Hillary Clinton added that Trump "has a long record of engaging in racist behavior, and the birther lie was a very hurtful one."
Trump defended himself by saying: "Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and (is a) close — very close — friend of Sec. Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle ... during ... her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. ... And if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, (a) highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. They were pressing it very hard. She failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn't fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. ...
"I was the one that got (President Barack Obama) to produce the birth certificate. ... Sec. Clinton also fought it. I mean, you know — now, everybody in mainstream is going to say, 'Oh, that's not true.' Look, it's true. You just have to take a look at CNN, the last week, the interview with your former campaign manager. And she was involved." So Trump's defense is that he and Blumenthal were on an amazing race to see who could get Obama to disclose his birth certificate?
No, no, no. Trump should have said that James Asher, former McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief, tweeted — just two weeks ago — that Blumenthal "told me in person 'Obama (was) born in Kenya,'" and that Blumenthal "spread the Obama birther rumor to me in 2008, asking us to investigate."
He should have also said that journalist John Heilemann, co-author of "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime," is not exactly a right-winger. Heilemann, in 2015 on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show, said that it was Hillary Clinton's 2008 election team that started questioning Obama's birth certificate.
Trump should have pushed back on the "racist" tag. When, where and how does questioning Obama's place of birth become "racist"? Questions were raised about whether then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was eligible because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Questions were raised about whether Barry Goldwater was eligible because he was born in Arizona when it was a territory, three years before it became a state. Were such questions "racist"?
What about Democrats' skepticism about Obama? According to a 2014 online survey conducted by YouGov as part of the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and published in a Washington Post blog, a majority of Democrats do not believe Obama is a Christian. Forty-five percent believe so, but 26 percent say they "don't know," 17 percent say he is "spiritual," 10 percent believe he is Muslim, and 2 percent think he is an atheist — as does Obama defender Bill Maher. Are they religious "birthers"? Are they "racist"?
Holt also asked Trump about his tax returns. Clinton suggested he did not pay any taxes. Trump said, "That makes me smart," effectively conceding that he pays no taxes. No, that's dumb.
Trump could have said that one of Obama's BFFs and somebody whose support Clinton sought in the primaries, the Rev. Al Sharpton, owes nearly $5 million in taxes. Sharpton, Trump could have reminded us, hosts a show for NBC where he supports the tax-and-spend policies of the Democratic Party, while not paying the taxes he wants increased on the rich. Why are the media, Trump could have asked, indifferent? Double standard.
Trump could have argued that he's not required by law to disclose his taxes. But Clinton was required by law to release all work-related email. She didn't. And the FBI gave her a pass. But an IRS audit is essentially a dispute with the IRS over a tax issue. And the taxpayer loses any leverage if the details become public before a resolution is reached, because the IRS will refuse to compromise for fear that people will think they are caving in. So Trump loses leverage by prematurely going public. Why, he could have asked, would any rational person do that? On the other hand, nothing's stopping Sec. Clinton from releasing the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches.
Trump could have asked Clinton why she's not disclosed her transcripts from her numerous high-paid Wall Street speeches. He could have asked why, when Obama refused to disclose his grades and test scores, the media lost interest. Double standard.
And these are just two issues — birtherism and taxes — where Trump let Clinton get off the hook. He let her put on gloves and a ski mask and wipe out the bank's vault.
There are two more debates. Trump needs to raise his game or he's fired.