The attacks by Donald Trump, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and other Republican leaders on Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis for flatly calling Trump’s presidency “not legitimate” was predictable.
What wasn’t expected was the criticism from a few Democrats who voiced some dismay at Lewis’s broadside against Trump. There were two glaring problems with this.
The first is that this feeds the deep suspicion that more than a few Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are more than willing to make nice with Trump and the GOP on vital legislative and public policy issues ranging from his jaded cabinet picks to their big-ticket assault on the Affordable Care Act.
The fear level jumped when the Republicans fast-tracked the confirmation hearing of Trump’s Justice Department head pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, that brought only a tepid challenge from Democratic Senate committee members.
The fear level jumped even higher when some Democrats talked about seeking compromise measures to soften the gutting or outright scrapping of Obamacare.
The other problem is the collective amnesia some Democrats exhibit when they stoop to criticize Lewis for hammering Trump.
Trump first ran for president in 2012, not 2016. Initially, his candidacy was widely regarded as a cross between a media oddity and P.T. Barnum self-promotion stunt. That is until he managed to figure out the one angle that was a sure-fire way to get attention. That was to dredge up the birthers’ lie about President Barack Obama’s citizenship.
Trump knew it would get the tongues wagging and oodles of attention and invites on network talk shows. Trump’s revisit to the bogus issue in 2012 did not mark him as a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination then.
However, it did put a quasi-public figure, who had become something of a household name, on record that the birther issue had enough merit to become a campaign issue.
No matter that it had been thoroughly debunked and discredited that it soon joined the pantheon of politically correct no-no’s for any of the pack of would-be Republican presidential contenders to raise. Trump knew that but that was partly why he blurted it out.
He also knew that while it was a taboo subject to raise in polite political circles, a significant number, if not majority of Republicans, actually believed or wanted to believe that Obama’s birth was a legitimate issue to dump back on the political table.
The point was really not Obama’s birthplace or citizenship. The point was to tag Obama’s presidency as illegitimate. If Trump and the GOP could drive that notion deep into the thinking of millions, then it could become a back-door way to destabilize the Obama administration on any and every policy initiative he pushed on health care, the economy, and a softer foreign policy outreach.
It worked to perfection in the 2014 mid-term elections. The GOP took back the Senate and tightened its grip on the House. With the congressional numbers in its favor, it now could keep the issue of repealing the Affordable Care Act alive long enough to hope that a GOP president could win the White House in 2017 and deal the final coup de grace to the law.
Even after Trump withdrew from the GOP presidential hunt in 2012, he did not back away from still taunting Obama as an illegitimate president. Whenever he did, it stirred media attention and kept the Trump name out there.
That was just enough for him to mount a serious run for the White House in 2016. This time he didn’t need to make an issue of Obama’s alleged illegitimate presidency to get attention.
He was a household name and could cloak his presidential bid with respectability by playing the angry champion of the poor put upon working man candidate. That was more than enough to mark him, and his campaign, as a political horse of a different color from the established pack of established GOP candidates.
Even better for Trump, he got a total pass from the press and worse, Democrats, in not waving his past of assailing Obama’s presidency as illegitimate in his campaign face. And reminding all how he used that to first make a presidential name for himself.
It was almost as if this issue was never an issue with Trump. So, when Lewis had the temerity to call out Trump’s presidency as not legitimate it seemed more than fitting to turn the table on the man who made his bones on calling another president not legitimate.
Democrats shouldn’t forget that ploy by Trump when he officially takes over the Oval Office. After all this was an office that he, of all people, felt the president that occupied it before him didn’t legitimately belong in and he made his political reputation by saying so.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Obama Legacy” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.