Donald Trump stepped out of the helicopter that had his name painted on the side, walked across the tarmac and announced to reporters that he was proud of himself. This would not be news on any day. But on this day, I would not have been surprised to see him start hugging and kissing himself.
"Today I am very proud of myself," he said, "because I have accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish."
Which was what exactly? Ah, yes, he was taking credit for President Barack Obama's decision to prove, yet again, that he was a natural-born citizen.
Obama now has had to prove his natural-born citizenship, a constitutional requirement, more than any previous president. You can lead the doubters to information, but you can't make them think.
It was not enough that Hawaii officials have provided copies of Obama's standard short-firm birth certificate since questions arose during the 2008 Democratic primary elections. The short form is accepted by the U.S. Passport Office and all other official agencies, but not by the "birther" movement that keeps this crazy cat-and-mouse game going.
To them, it does not matter that Obama was born to a mother who was a natural born citizen, even though that's all that other Americans have needed under the law. Trump, for one, wants more, even as he claims a victory.
"We have to look at it, we have to see is it real, is it proper, what's on it, but I hope it checks out beautifully." See if it is "real?" Why wouldn't it be real? Oh, right. In the birther view, it is only the president who has the burden of proof to dispel every crack-brained baseless allegation. All the birthers have to do is keep finding questions to raise.
Even before his tarmac moment, Trump was dreaming up new hoops for the president to jump through. He decided, based on unnamed sources from whom he allegedly "heard," that Obama really was not a good student. So Trump wants to see Obama's academic record. Who knows? He'll probably be asking for the Obamas' marriage license next.
Trump's implication was clear. He was calling Obama some sort of an affirmative-action baby who took seats at Columbia and Harvard Law that might have gone to a more-deserving white kid. That's a bold-faced insult to black achievers like Obama who worked hard and played by the rules.
But Trump's not worried. "I have a great relationship with the blacks," he said earlier on an Albany, N.Y., radio station. "I've always had a great relationship with the blacks." Uh, probably not anymore, the Donald.
Frankly I still don't take Trump's toe-dips into a possible candidacy seriously. Neither do most voters, it appears. A resounding 64 percent of Americans in an April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll said they would "definitely not" vote for him. I don't think he's helped himself with crucial swing voters by going full birther.
But while I do not take Trump's possible candidacy seriously, I think we should all take seriously the people who do take him seriously.
It is not by dumb luck that Trump, famously ridiculed by Spy magazine in the 1980s as a "short-fingered vulgarian," has managed to recast himself with remarkable ease, despite his gold-plated lifestyle, into the voice of a regular guy, angry at getting fleeced by the big shots in Washington and media elites, except maybe Fox News, who have let them down.
That's a powerful role in American presidential elections. Like George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and various other populist outliers in past campaign seasons, Trump has tapped into the bubbling rage of his times.
Today's crowded Republican field has no obvious front-runner this late in the presidential election cycle for the first time since 1952. That opens a golden opportunity for Trump to step in and fill the resentment gap.
He's a salesman, after all. He knows his prospective customers. The secret of the deal, he has written, is to make the other guy or woman feel good about himself or herself. Trump's saying what many others would like to say if they only had his bully pulpit, even when he uses it for real bullying.