WASHINGTON ― Members of the political press corps are not nimble beasts. So it was probably a bit exhausting for them as they stepped on top of their bronze chiavari chairs in the aptly named Presidential Ballroom of the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. late Friday morning to shriek questions at Donald Trump.
But this is what they were reduced to: As they stood on those chairs, atop soft, white-padded seats, exhausting their lungs to scream questions at a suddenly reticent presidential candidate ― Will you apologize to President Obama? When did you stop believing in birtherism? Mr. Trump?! Mr. Trump!” ― the realization surely dawned on them that they had been played.
An event billed as a major statement on Trump’s long history as a birther devoted a mere 33 seconds (pauses included) to the subject matter. Instead, it featured a live tour of Trump’s new hotel and a lengthy, nearly uninterrupted series of testimonials from veterans supporting Trump about just what a courageous, clear-sighted commander-in-chief he would be.
A press conference this surely was not. It was merely a promotional exercise for a newly opened property capped off by a disingenuous attempt to deflect blame, all done behind the human shield of decorated veterans. Not only did Trump seek to gain absolution, he wanted the moral high-ground too, since any complaint about Friday’s event could subsequently be spun as disregard for the veterans in attendance.
Hints that the press had been gamed were visible from the start. Earlier in the morning, Trump had declined to tell Fox Business News whether he was disavowing birtherism because, as he put it, he wanted to build suspense. He arrived late at the hotel, a knowing, sly smile was on his face.
“Nice hotel,” were the first words out of his mouth, as he surveyed his ballroom.
And away we went.
By the time the event had ended, Trump had said he no longer questions the president’s legitimacy: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” He had also uttered a few lies ― Hillary Clinton did not, in fact, start the birther movement in 2008 and Trump did not end it in 2011 ― before moving on to a less ambiguous melding of his business and political ventures.
Photographers and television cameramen were ushered along to tour his hotel with him, through the high-ceilinged ballrooms and the sumptuous lounge. It’s a lavish place, one that Trump predicted will be known as the best hotel in the country, if not the world. But it’s also a complicated matter for a candidate presenting himself as a champion of working America. A spoonful of wine ― yes, a spoonful ― costs between $15 and $140, rooms currently cost just under $900 a night, and there is gold trim on the urinals (fake gold, but still). The hotel cost $212 million to build.
None of this likely matters to Trump’s supporters, who regarded questions about his wealth and his dalliance with the birthers with a mix of contempt and indifference. There was one woman from Maryland who said Trump’s continued birtherism wasn’t important since Obama “is so close to leaving office anyway.” There was Sean Spicer, the top RNC strategist now working with the Trump campaign, who said he had no insight into whether Trump had questioned Obama’s birthplace after 2011. (He has.)
“I’ll have to look that up,” he told The Huffington Post.
And there was Jo-Ann Chase, the Virginia director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, who said that she now believed that Obama was born in America, since, after all, her candidate had said so.
“Whatever Donald says, I believe,” she told reporters. “He’s the man!”
Trump had long left the ballroom. The reporters who stayed behind were by that point off their chairs, wondering what they had just witnessed. In the back, the blue curtain that had hung behind Trump began to collapse, taking a row of American flags with it as if they were dominoes.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.