Having set a brush fire, Trump backtracks

Catherine Ferrell, right, of Greene, Maine, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, yells as Alex Lange, far left, of Portland, Maine argues with her at a demonstration outside Portland City Hall, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, near Trump's campaign appearance at Merrill Auditorium. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

It’s big news when presidential hopeful Donald Trump backtracks on a brush fire he set and can’t put out.

This tweet, issued in the middle of the night, is as close to Trump saying “whoops” as we’ve ever seen.

For two days Trump has told a story to his rabid fans that was wrong: that he saw a planeload of cash land in Iran in exchange for the release of American prisoners held by Iran. Media dutifully repeated it, helping to create a reality out of thin air.

Even as people in his own campaign acknowledged the ransom story was wrong, even as the administration insisted it never happened, Trump told the story again in Portland, Maine, at the same rally during which he added Somalis living in Minnesota to his list of evils in the world.

“How stupid are we to allow this to continue to go on? To see what’s happening. And you know, it was interesting, because a tape was made. Right? You saw that, with the airplane coming in?” Trump said, without acknowledging that his own campaign had contradicted his story a day earlier. “And the airplane coming in and the money coming off, I guess. That was given to us, has to be, by the Iranians. And you know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country.

“And they want to embarrass our president, because we have a president who’s incompetent,” he continued. “They want to embarrass our president. I mean, who would ever think that they would be taking all of this money off the plane and then providing us with the tape? It’s only for one reason, and it’s very, very sad.”

Why did Trump’s legions believe the story? Because they wanted to.

The story reached its height of irony when Oliver North, the felon who actually did make illegal cash-and-weapons trades with Iran on behalf of a renegade president, thought he had moral high ground on the issue.

“This administration has deceived and dissembled repeatedly since 2009,” he insisted. “Fast and Furious, the gun walking case, IRS enemies list, Obamacare — did you get to keep your doctor and your health plan — the Benghazi lies before, during and after the cover-up. And of course, we’ve got an existential threat with the nuclear weapons deal that was done with Iran.”

“All because this administration has bent over backwards to give the Iranians whatever they want.”

Fewer people with a grasp on reality are still aboard the Trump bandwagon. In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Michael Morell, who once ran the CIA, said he wants nothing to do with turning the country over to the likes of Trump, whom he says is dangerous.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Morell said Trump’s Klan-like screeds against Muslims and Somalis in Maine and Minnesota play into the hands of jihadists.

In its editorial today, the Portland Herald said Trump’s rally was an attack on innocent people. Trump said Somalis are a Trojan horse.

The newspaper did what few news organization seem interested in doing: It stood up for its people.

Mr. Trump can relax. We know who they are. They are our neighbors and our friends. Some of them work in our schools and hospitals. Some are students. Some own businesses. They pay taxes, which are used for, among other things, maintaining the stage from which he spoke.

Among the Portland residents of Somali descent that Trump wants us to fear is Officer Zara Abu of the Portland Police Department. She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, worked two jobs to get through college, and now protects and serves her community.

Trump tried to suggest that immigrants like Officer Abu are responsible for “many, many crimes,” but he has no evidence to back that up. Every ethnic group includes individuals who break the law, but solid research shows that native-born Americans are more likely to commit crimes than the people who move here from other countries. Trump’s libelous insinuations are just an attempt to boost his standing by dividing the rest of us.

With any luck, when Trump visits the state on August 19, Minnesotans will do what the Press Herald did: form a circle around our Somali friends and neighbors and turn around to defend them against the slurs and hate.

Angry white America continues to eat this stuff up. This morning, CNN reports, the latest poll shows Hillary Clinton with only a 15-percent edge over Trump in popular opinion, a testament to the true evil that threatens the country: us.

Related: Why facts don’t matter to Trump’s supporters (Washington Post)

Maine’s Somalis could be its saviors (Bloomberg)