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Presidential Apprentice: Donald Trump's Birtherism, Sponsored By NBC

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Donald Trump‘s appearance on the Today Show this morning was a trifecta of self-promotion for NBC Universal. It gave a platform to the star of Celebrity Apprentice, one of NBC’s few minor hits. It gave Today a buzzed-about interview (MSNBC’s Morning Joe also had The Donald on this morning). And it helped publicize an new NBC / Wall Street Journal poll that shows Trump tied for second as a hypothetical GOP presidential candidate.

I’ve explained before why Donald Trump is not going to run for President—I would love to be wrong, if only for the blog material—but apparently we’re all obliged to take it seriously, at least until the Celebrity Apprentice finale. So what’s the narrative of his candidacy? Businessman steps in to save troubled economy, right? Wrong. Apparently America is longing for an experienced executive to… hire private eyes to prove that the President was secretly born in Kenya.

In an interview with Meredith Vieira that also touched on foreign policy and the economy, Trump showed that he has decided to double, if not triple, down on his embrace of the birther movement, which believes that President Obama is constitutionally unqualified to serve as President. And not for Donald the squeamish “Well, there are a lot of questions out there” answers of other politicians gingerly handling the birther dynamite: Trump says he is increasingly suspicious that Obama has “conned the world.”

Vieira did not exactly roll over for her fellow NBC employee, but she didn’t exactly seem well-prepped, either. In part, Trump simply steamrolled over her challenges, for instance, on Hawaii’s policy as to what birth documents it makes available. But she also let him make the claim that Obama’s grandmother said she saw him born in Kenya—an old, and long-debunked, chestnut of birthers that ranks up there with the fake Mombassa birth certificate—without questioning it. So now millions of Today viewers are invited to take it as fact. And while Trump made the juicy-sounding claim that he’s sent investigators to Hawaii and “can’t believe” what he’s hearing from them, if Vieira asked him to back it up with a single example of their findings, that ended up on the cutting room floor.

The takeaway for the Today audience: Maybe Obama was born in America! Maybe not! We’ll check back and see what exciting news Donald has dug up in a few weeks, as we get closer to the exciting finale of Celebrity Apprentice! Oooh, that Donald! Good God, I think Today was tougher on the Salahis.

Frankly, while I’m no pundit, I’m not sure this tack is the best one politically for Trump. (If again we assume he actually wants to run, which his 1988 and 2000 history tells us he does not.) It seems like the sort of thing that will make a base of voters very excited about him—hence the fact that he led the NBC poll among self-identified Tea Party voters—and make the larger public more convinced he’s a reality-TV fame hound shooting his mouth off.

But, you know, call me crazy, I would think that even the Today Show, ostensibly an NBC News property, would care about not legitimizing a dubious challenge to the legitimacy of the President without at least some sign of new evidence. (I’m betting you that Brian Williams, whose NBC Nightly News has thoroughly worked over the birther conspiracies, is mortified.) But hey, ratings are ratings, and there’s a poll that says this is legitimate news!

The kicker to all this is that Trump says the reason to vote for him—he of the bankruptcies, reality catchphrases and notorious hair—is that then, the world would no longer “laugh at us.” Hey, CBS: It’s not too late to get Jeff Probst to mount a primary challenge.