Now that Donald Trump is a Republican candidate for president, he has to lie about how often he reads the Bible. Last week, he told interviewers from the Bloomberg program With All Due Respect that it was his favorite book. They asked him to cite a favorite verse. Instead of just saying “Jesus wept” and staring at the hosts until they fell silent, he ad libbed:
Trump: I wouldn’t want to get into it, because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal, so I don’t want to get into verses…The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.
Interviewer: Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?
Trump: Uh, probably equal. I think it’s just an incredible…the whole Bible is an incredible…I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say “my second favorite book of all time.”
It tells us something about our present politics that the man who called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists during his announcement speech won’t just say he doesn’t read the Bible. Video and close reading after the jump.
Many of you Combat! blog readers are not as old as I am, so you can probably use some tips on how to lie better. When someone is trying to catch you in a lie, don’t say, “I don’t want to get into specifics.” That’s the whole reason they’re asking you for specifics: they think you’re lying. Consider the classic “gotcha” moment of Sarah Palin’s career, when she claimed to read all newspapers and Katie Couric asked her to name one. That went bad. It went so bad that Palin still regards any demand for specifics as a gotcha question, and declared this interview with Trump an example of the form.
Journalists are going to do that to you, though, because they know you are full of it. Instead of saying he didn’t want to get into specifics, Trump should have gotten really specific. Start talking about the Book of Elijah, and whether it’s fundamentally a work of pessimism or if it expresses hope for redmeption through suffering, and don’t stop until everyone’s eyes glaze over. Your bloviation does not have to be accurate. The dudes who host interview videos on Bloomberg News weren’t up reading Elijah last night, either.
Trump didn’t do that, possibly because he was afraid of getting caught. But it’s hard to imagine a smokescreen more transparent than his actual answer, which expressed admiration for the Bible while demonstrating zero knowledge of its contents. For reference, Mr. Trump, you are an Old Testament guy. Pretty much your whole platform is that losers are dragging America down and deserve swift justice. Jesus was on to a different thing.
Trump’s claim that revealing his favorite Bible verse would be too “personal” is not a convincing excuse. Consider this anecdote about a woman who was “one of the biggest of the big” flirting with him at a “magnificent dinner given by one of the most admired people in the world”:
“Donald,” she said. “I don’t care. I just don’t care. I have to have you, and I have to have you now.” I told her that I’d call her, but that she had to stop the behavior immediately. She made me promise, and I did. When I called I just called to say hello, and that was the end of that.
That’s from Trump: The Art of the Comeback, a book that elaborates on his published statements about his marriages, women he hooked up with in the 1970s, and his mother. In this context, it’s hard to imagine he blushes to say which Psalm he likes best.
But what’s most impressive about this interview is that a man who built his campaign on audacity—who has insulted Mexicans and John McCain, accused Megyn Kelly of PMS, and maybe mocked Rand Paul’s hearing aids—considers it unsafe to say he doesn’t read the Bible. He’s a clown, an anti-candidate, a provocateur, but he feels obliged to play Charlie Church like the career politicians he derides. There is one sacred cow in contemporary Republican politics, and it’s not the latino vote, war heroes, or repealing Obamacare. It’s the Bible, and the whole thing is just incredible.