Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- It is now being reported that Donald Trump is likely to play a "surprise" part on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa -- perhaps, some speculate, in a comedy bit involving the firing of a Barack Obama impersonator. "The role, like Mr. Trump," says a Trump spokesman, "is unique and will be memorable for all those in attendance at the convention and those watching around the country. Stay tuned."

The appearance is further evidence of one of the oddest flirtations in American politics. Trump and Mitt Romney appeared together at a Las Vegas fundraiser in May. The Romney campaign raffled off a meal with the pair as a reward for campaign donors.

Romney supporters tend to be perplexed by his ties to Trump but dismissive of their importance. No one is likely to confuse the members of a couple this odd. On the plus side, this connection may help unbutton Romney's public image. Add a little pop culture sizzle. Bring in some extra cash.

All of these justifications would make sense if we were talking about Kim Kardashian, who is famous merely for her fame. But Trump is also famous for spreading conspiracy theories. He is the nation's highest profile "birther," who sent investigators to Hawaii to uncover proof of Obama's duplicity. Finding none, he moved on to the sinister mystery of the president's unreleased college transcripts. Turning his attention from politics to medicine, he has asserted that multiple vaccinations cause babies to be "different," based on this evidence: "I've known cases." When informed that most physicians disagree, he responded: "I know they do. ... I couldn't care less."

Set aside that vaccine skepticism is the medical equivalent of encouraging children to play in traffic. Trump represents not merely wealth and brashness but an attitude toward authority and knowledge. He has developed a standing among some populist conservatives by arguing that mainstream information is fundamentally biased, that public officials are engaged in elaborate deceptions, and that only a courageous few can understand and uncover the alarming reality. Politics, in this view, is not the contest of ideas; it is the exposure of a plot. It matters little if hard evidence is nonexistent, which is taken as further evidence of the plotters' diabolical sophistication.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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