Of course Trump doesn't literally believe Obama founded ISIS, so why does he keep saying it?

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Because it is a day that ends in 'y,' Donald Trump is making headlines for saying something outrageous.  This time it's the claim that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton co-founded ISIS.


"In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder. He founded ISIS," Trump told a Florida crowd on Wednesday night.  He then continued, "I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton."

On Thursday the candidate doubled down on CNBC by saying, “He was the founder of ISIS, absolutely, the way he removed our troops - shouldn’t have gone in.”  At that point it seemed like the situation was clear. Donald Trump was attempting to recycle a standard conservative talking point, that Barack Obama's foreign policy led to the rise of ISIS, in the most inane, reductive and offensive way he knew how.


But then, during an appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, things got interesting.  The conservative radio host attempted to help the Republican candidate articulate his oversimplified point. “I know what you meant," Hewitt said to Trump, "you meant that he created the vacuum; he lost the peace—”

"No," Trump replied, interrupting the host, “No, I meant that he’s the founder of ISIS - I do.”

So wait, does this mean that Trump literally believes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS? Does he think they got together in someone's basement like a pair of tech-bros and decided to disrupt geopolitical stability by establishing an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East?

No. That is not what he thinks. His next comments were an illuminating glimpse into the way that the Republican nominee for President of the United States thinks about the relationship between reality, truth, and the words that come out of his mouth.


HEWITT: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.

TRUMP: I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?


HEWITT:  … [The Obama administration] screwed everything up. You don’t get any argument from me. But by using the term 'founder,' they’re hitting with you on this again. Mistake?

Trump: No, it’s no mistake. Everyone’s liking it. I think they’re liking it.

So there you have it: Trump does not simply lack fidelity to the truth, he lacks any and all regard for it. In his mind, the syllogism goes, If I say it and people cheer, then it is good. It does not matter if what he is saying is an actual, ludicrous lie as long as "everyone's liking it."


As Hewitt continued to press, Trump doubled down on his logic.

HEWITT: They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say. … I’d just use different language to communicate it.


TRUMP: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

There it is, Donald Trump admits that his extreme rhetoric is all about the attention it generates. And it is possible that Trump has been trying to grab attention with this particular comment for some time.  As the conservative Washington Examiner pointed out on Thursday, Trump has been making a version of this same claim at his rallies for seven months now.  The difference is that, back then, Trump was competing in a contentious Republican primary where candidates jockeyed for the support of a few radical conservatives. He now faces the kind of scrutiny that attends a general election campaign.


It's also worth noting that the Republican talking point that initially gave way to Trump's comments is pretty disingenuous to begin with. The troop withdrawal overseen by Barack Obama during his first administration was negotiated by his predecessor George W. Bush and then-Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki. For Barack Obama to have avoided pulling out American troops during his administration, he would have had to go back on that agreement and break several major precedents in international law.

But then again, that is just the kind of the kind of disastrous foreign policy that Donald Trump tends to favor.

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