When Quibbling Becomes Confirming

Donald Trump went on a radio show run by right-wing conspiracy monger Alex Jones to reveal that the White House had plans to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees.

A Syrian passport, perhaps faked, had just been found on the body of a suicide bomber in Paris. The media went nuts.

White House flacks came running. No, they insisted. Not 250,000 refugees. Only 10,000.

The president of the United States had been trapped by the great exaggerator whose insouciant shoulder shrug seemed to say, “difference without a distinction.”

Trump knew Jones would not challenge his number. That unwelcome chore would fall to the White House. In its eagerness to correct the record, the administration could not avoid confirming the nightmarish nature of Trump’s jeremiad. A quarter million was unthinkable, said Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest, feigning a look of shock.

But Trump had used the power of exaggeration to maneuver the White House into endorsing his essential point — that there were serious reasons to worry about foreigners of uncertain provenance, no matter what their true number. And 10,000 would strike most voters as a very large number of risks to take under the circumstances, debris crews still at work in the streets of Paris.

Even though administration spokespersons took pains to describe a careful vetting system, anyone with an ounce of sense knew that mingled in with those huddled masses, whatever the eventual number, were bound to be rascals bent on misrepresenting themselves, concealing their past and their true plans, to slip in with the chaos afforded by the migrant crisis.

Obama got snookered — and with the proliferation of highly partisan news-like sites such as the Alex Jones show, where serial exaggerators take no great risk of being challenged, the tactic is sure to hook more big fish as the campaign goes on.