Building off our successful clash with John McCain, I had been working with Donald Trump on improving his Islamophobic cred since the summer. It wasn't going well. Trump had made business deals all over the Muslim world (except Qatar and Iran) and he had an acute sensitivity to Muslims.
In the beginning, I could only get him to say publicly, "There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down."
See the word Muslim anywhere in that statement? Me neither. Needless to say, Trump needed a lot of work on his Islamophobia and religion-baiting. But something advantageous did come from Trump's statement.
Obviously, Trump's assertion about people cheering the destruction of the Twin Towers is completely baseless. That's not the point. It rings true to a lot of the Republican base, which was the demographic we intended to court. The information was a bastardization of an article written by reporter Serge Kovaleski in the Washington Post.
On September 18, 2001, Kovaleski wrote, "In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners' plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river."
After Trump began citing the article, Kovaleski retorted that his piece doesn't mention Arabs celebrating and that these celebrations were merely alleged. We were in trouble of falling into a fact- based argument with a Pulitzer Prize wining journalist, known for his meticulous investigations.
"Do you know this guy Serge, Donny?" I asked
Trump answered, "Yeah, I do. Good reporter."
"You know he has arthrogryposes?"
Trump swallowed hard, "Um, yeah. What are you getting at, David?"
"At your next rally, you should mock him."
"WHAT?" Trump yelled in disbelief.
"Yeah. Trust me, my wife has a disability. I mock her all the time."
"You do?" he wondered.
"No, of course not! C'mon Donny, what am I an insensitive shithead? I'm also not running for the Republican nomination. You should mock his disability. The base will love it," I assured him.
Trump was clearly pained by my last bit of advice. "Surely even the Republican base has its limits?" he asked in almost a pleading manner. "They don't," I said flatly.
Up on stage, Trump addressed Kovaleski's clarification. "Now the poor guy," Trump chided, "you ought to see this guy, 'Uh, I don't know what I said, uh, I don't remember." While the words were offensive, his gestures were Oscar-worthy. He shook and bent his limbs in what was clearly a disgusting imitation of Kovaleski's condition.
The mainstream media was sure this latest outrage would be the end of his candidacy. My only concern was his denial, "I get reports that I was imitating a reporter who was handicapped. I would never do that." Then the news would show a clip of him indisputably mocking Kovaleski. Everyone around Trump began thinking he was done. Donny nearly fired me. Desperately, I described the callousness of the Republican base. "Having me make fun of somebody who is differently abled," Trump shook his head, "You misread things David, and now I'm not only going to lose, I look like the biggest asshole in America!" Trump bellowed.
But then a funny thing happened. His poll numbers went up again. And as it turned out, even my wife's parents- both of them- would vote for Trump. My job was safe.