He launched his campaign by claiming the majority of undocumented immigrants from Mexico were rapists and drug dealers sent to the United States by the Mexican government. He believes it’s possible that Barack Obama forged his own birth certificate and lied about the identity of his own mother in order to eventually run for president (note: The only way Obama would not be eligible for office is if his mother wasn’t who he said she was; it doesn’t matter where he was born). He said that an American prisoner of war who spent five and a half years being tortured and has spent the rest of his life in public service was not a “war hero.” He suggested that Megyn Kelly of Fox News was critical of him at a debate because she was on her period. He thinks the United States should consider building a database of all Muslims in the country and an enormous wall on our border with Mexico. Apparently, he is the only person in the world who saw footage of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City, New Jersey cheering on the streets as the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001.
Amazingly, sadly, pathetically, none of this has made a dent in Donald Trump’s xenophobic, fascistic, and bigoted campaign to become the next President of the United States. But on Tuesday, at a rally in South Carolina, he unwittingly hit the detonate button on his campaign. This time, finally, Donald Trump can run but he can’t hide.
This time, he picked on the wrong person.
Ever since he catapulted into the national spotlight in the mid 1980’s, no one has been more singularly obsessed with his own brand than Donald Trump. He puts his name on everything he touches: Hotels, condominiums, golf courses, casinos, an online university, a clothing line, a board game, airplanes, helicopters, a series of ghostwritten books, fragrances, furniture, and, yes, even bottled water. Earlier this year, when he disclosed his finances to the Federal Election Commission, Trump estimated his fortune to be worth $8.7 billion (he’s since claimed to be worth more than $10 billion).
According to Trump, his single largest asset isn’t one of his hotels or golf courses, and it’s not Mar-A-Lago, his 110,000 square foot estate in Palm Beach. It’s his brand, the Trump name, which he claims is worth $3.3 billion. Forbes, however, in an article titled “Trump Exaggerating His Net Worth (By 100%) In Presidential Bid,” estimates the brand’s value at $125 million. As unrelentingly critical as Trump has been about the media during his campaign, he understands, as a businessman, that his brand value is dependent on the media. If Donald Trump the person is toxic, then so too are the Trump Towers, the Trump International Hotels, and the Trump golf courses.
This perhaps explains why Trump so often takes critical media coverage so personally; he’s made it his business to know the media, personally.
And it’s also why no one will ever believe Donald Trump’s claim that he doesn’t remember meeting Serge Kovaleski, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times who frequently wrote about Trump for nearly six years and whose September 18, 2001 story in The Washington Post that briefly mentioned allegations of Muslims being detained in Jersey City is now being used as the primary source for Trump’s specious claim that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrated as the World Trade Center collapsed. After Trump first referenced the article, Kovaleski made it abundantly clear that he had never reported what Trump was suggesting. In fact, no one had, and there are no records of anyone being detained in Jersey City (or anywhere else for that matter) for celebrating on the streets during the 9/11 attacks.
Serge Kovaleski, it’s important to note, is disabled. He has arthrogryposis, a condition that affects his joints and the flexibility of his arms. Here is a picture of Kovaleski:
I don’t know Kovaleski, but like him, I live with a physical disability, cerebral palsy, that makes me distinguishable. Take it from me: People remember folks like us.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump felt compelled to respond to Kovaleski’s claim that he and his campaign were misrepresenting the story about Muslims celebrating on the streets of Jersey City.
Trump first tells the audience that Kovaleski is a “nice reporter,” and then he does this:
Almost immediately, Trump was lambasted for mocking Kovaleski’s disability, and Trump went into damage control mode and did what he has always done: He doubled down. He claimed that he never recalled meeting that “nice reporter,” Kovaleski, the same guy who’d reported on him for nearly six years in one of his hometown papers. “Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago — if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did,” he said. He accused Kovaleski of using his disability to grandstand; he feigned indignation at The New York Times and demanded they issue him an apology. He was, in other words, his usual self: Indignant, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, and, somehow, the victim.
Of course Donald Trump knows and vididly remembers the disabled guy who reported about his real estate deals for years and years in one of the biggest papers in New York and during the most difficult period of his career. In fact, according to Kovaleski, they were on a first-name basis and had met at least a dozen times.
Donald Trump’s political obituary has been written dozens of times since he launched his campaign, and he continues to defy the odds. This time, though, it’s different. This time, it’s impossible to overlook the ways in which he blatantly lied in order to excuse his own bigotry. This time, it won’t go away quietly.
“It’s a really, really, really bad idea to piss off Serge Kovaleski,” one of his colleagues at The New York Times said to me today.
Donald Trump may have just met his match.