This was the moment Donald Trump finally realized he isn’t going to be president

Donald Trump went to New Hampshire yesterday to take a victory lap after what he must have assumed was a dominating performance at Wednesday night’s debate. In his tried and true “Hey, script, you’re fired” fashion, he ditched his planned speech and instead decided to take questions from his audience at random.

The first one was a doozy:

Here’s question:

We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. Our current President is one. YOU know he’s not even an American….We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?

Rather than correct the man on any part of his statement/question, Trump merely responded “A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things.”


To be clear, this is Trump’s version of not answering a question. To be clearer, Trump’s version of not answering this particular question validated a WorldNetDaily conspiracy theory at best, and implied that we should seriously consider jailing or deporting every American Muslim at worst.

But even before the man had finished asking his question, it’s clear Trump knew he was in trouble. As he was being reminded of the True Fact that he doesn’t think President Obama is an American — What else could all of that fuss in 2011 have been about? — he joked to the crowd, “We need this question? The first question?” knowing that it was a lose-lose. After all, in Trumpian circles, this guy isn’t a nut: 66% of Republicans supporting Trump believe President Obama is a Muslim; 61% believe that he wasn’t born in the United States. Politically, speaking, he can’t tell all of them that their beliefs about the president — beliefs that are in large part of his own creation — are in fact offensive and insane. To them, that wouldn’t be the Donald “Tell It Like It Is” Trump that they know and love; he’d be just another politician.

After all, this is the Trump they fell in love with:

But there’s a new reality for Trump now — one that didn’t exist when he was sending teams of private investigators to Hawai’i and getting roasted on Comedy Central. Some time between the first and second Republican primary debates, Donald Trump went from believing that he would make a great president to believing he could actually win. That meant changes. That meant signing the RNC’s loyalty pledge. That meant promising to soften his tone about how rapey and murdery Latinos are if and when he’s elected. That meant going from not having time for political correctness to backtracking about calling Carly Fiorina ugly. And that most certainly meant going from being flattered by winning the white nationalist vote to avoiding conspiracy theories about the FBI ignoring Islamic State training facilities within our borders at the behest of our foreign, Muslim, illegitimate president.

Which, given the whole premise of Donald Trump’s candidacy, is impossible.

Between becoming the Republican frontrunner and yesterday’s rally, Donald Trump had never been forced to tackle the glaring contradiction in his attempted transition. He had never considered the fact that you don’t just “decide” to switch from being a fascist demagogue to a democratic statesman. The ideological sewage you wade around in with all of that demagoguery stays with you. Even if you try to leave the sewer, you’ll still smell like shit.

The moment that man told Donald Trump that “YOU know he’s not even an American” was the moment Donald Trump got an inkling of just how bad he smelled.

Now, there’s no reason to believe that this latest comment — one that would end any other presidential campaign — is going to immediately hurt Trump in Republican primary polling. Remember, this is a guy who took the lead by making sure he said something heinous in pretty much every news cycle. But Trump’s reaction to the incident shows that his campaign is at least worried about that possibility.

Immediately following the event, his campaign pushed out a frantic statement reading: “The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake,” which makes no sense given that the question was about the exact opposite of religious liberty — the man explicitly called for the targeted use of force against members of a specific religious group. What’s more, it was the first question of the event, so it’s not like it can be placed in any other context.

Additionally, neither Trump nor any of his spokespeople have responded to the question of whether he agrees with the questioner that President Obama is a foreign Muslim. While this wouldn’t be unusual for any other campaign, the fact that Donald Trump is taking this much time to think about how he wants to answer a question should tell you a lot about how uncomfortable the question’s made him. When Donald Trump called Mexicans rapists and murders, he immediately doubled down. When he said John McCain wasn’t a war hero, he immediately doubled down. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen here.

Because while a majority of Trump’s supporters may say Obama’s a foreign Muslim when asked in a survey if they believe Barack Obama is [insert thing conservatives don’t like here], this was different. And he knows as well as we do that, even if you’ve shown up for a Donald Trump rally, you still don’t want to agree with that guy about pretty much anything:

So again, I’m not saying that yesterday evening’s event will spark an immediate and drastic cratering in Donald Trump’s poll numbers. But I am saying that this feels like the first “What did Trump say now?” moment on the campaign that actually shook the man. It forced him to realize what people hear when he talks.

As someone who looks in the mirror and sees a handsome, classy, luxurious president, he can’t feel good about what he’s only now realizing they’re hearing.

UPDATE: Donald Trump has backed out of tonight’s Heritage Foundation-sponsored candidate forum in South Carolina:

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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