Donald Trump’s political career was born amid the fever swamps of the far right. He seized on a favorite conspiracy theories bubbling there — that then-President Barack Obama was not, in fact, born in the United States and therefore was an illegitimate president — to boost his profile in national politics.
That boost eventually led to his 2016 candidacy. That candidacy led to President Donald Trump. But what never changed is Trump’s roots in the conspiracy-theory world.
Witness a series of Trump tweets Saturday morning that suggest he was the target of a wire-tapping campaign authorized by President Barack Obama during the 2016 presidential race.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
There is, as you likely already guessed, no detail about the alleged wire-tapping included in any of the Trump tweets. Trump’s tweets appear to trace back to an article on Breitbart News on Friday headlined “Mark Levin to Congress: Investigate Obama’s ‘Silent Coup’ vs. Trump.” That article, based heavily on conservative talk radio host Levin’s views, suggest the Obama administration conducted a “silent coup” to keep Trump from the presidency.
Here’s the key paragraph:
“Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.”
The problem here, of course, is that what Levin — and Breitbart — use as evidence for these claims are a series of seemingly unconnected events — from FISA court requests to Trump joking about the Russia email hack to the release of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails in the fall. The proof that all — or any — of these events are tied together by actual facts as opposed to supposition is not offered.
The idea that Obama’s administration authorized — and was able to get approval for — the wire-tapping of the opposition party’s candidate for president is, frankly, far-fetched. And, if someone is making that claim — as Trump is now doing — the burden of proof is on him. If you are going to say there is a grand conspiracy that only you and a handful of others see, you need to offer a step-by-step explanation to the broader public to show why you’re right.
It seems unlikely — given Trump’s past pattern of making baseless claims without proof and then simply insisting he is right and no evidence is needed to prove the point — that any meaningful effort will be made by the Trump administration to connect the dots on this alleged wire-tapping conspiracy.
Here’s the thing: Conspiracy theorists see everything as connected. If you doubt them, well, of course, you do because you’re in on it. That’s not the standard that we can have for the president of the United States. Proof is required.
The ball is in Trump’s court. Short of convincing evidence to back up the wire-tapping claims, the conspiracy-theory candidate has become the conspiracy-theory president.
Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for The Washington Post, and he hosts the Ciquizza podcast, a weekly news quiz. Follow him on Twitter: @thefix.