Nunes memo is the Obama birth certificate of the Russia probe

Nunes memo is the Obama birth certificate of the Russia probe
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If there is one thing we know about Donald Trump by now, it is that he is masterful at monopolizing media attention by teasing a political revelation that either disappoints or never comes to pass.

Trump’s entrance into national politics was fueled by years of claims that he had secret, damning information regarding President Obama’s birth certificate. He didn’t. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised a press conference about Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration Trump dismisses Ann Coulter after criticism: 'I hardly know her' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight MORE’s immigration records. It never happened. After losing the popular vote, Trump claimed to have evidence that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally, and formed a fraud commission that ended up disbanding with a whimper.

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The declassified memo released by Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears ‘Fox & Friends’ host asks if McCabe opening FBI probe into Trump was attempt to ‘overthrow government’ Nunes says GOP lawmakers looking through Russia transcripts, will make DOJ referrals MORE (R-Calif.) represents Trump’s latest demonstration that he can, at will, take the national media for a ride. Whether he is seeking to bolster his relevance or distract from damaging press coverage, Trump’s penchant for floating vague, empty promises that resemble reality TV cliffhangers is a pillar of his well-established brand of deceptive political communication.

It is high time we all stop falling for it. By protesting the release of the Nunes memo, which turned out to be utterly uninformative without the underlying evidence, Democrats and intelligence officials gave President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE more fodder for conspiracy theories and the notion that the FBI has something to hide.

There were several indications early on that the Nunes memo would not prove to be as incendiary as Republicans claimed. One is a fundamental rule of public relations: Don’t announce big news on a Friday (or right before Super Bowl weekend). If Republicans truly believed that the contents of the memo would make a big splash or cast serious doubt on the integrity of the Russia investigation, they would have likely chosen to hold off as long as possible. But it was never about the content. For Trump, the journey is the destination.

We have also seen Trump pull off this charade many times over the past decade. Perhaps the most audacious example of it was his demand that President Obama release his birth certificate. Despite the sheer absurdity of the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, Trump built a conservative movement out of the charge, which was only strengthened by the media coverage it received and the White House’s attempts to ignore Trump’s requests. President Obama was eventually forced to make his birth certificate public.

Democrats have clearly not learned this lesson. In the case of President Obama’s citizenship, Trump leveraged deep-seated racial fears to muster political support. He employed the same strategy in the case of the Nunes memo, only the fear he played on this time was an American distrust of big government that is particularly pronounced in the Republican Party.

Though Republicans have harbored their reputation as the party of law and order, that pedigree is not nearly as strong as the cynicism about federal institutions that is sewn into the most basic fabric of our democracy. By casting doubt on independent agencies in particular, the FBI and Justice Department, which are supposed to function outside the reach of partisan influence, Trump drew even more attention to his cause. The waters have been muddied.

If the media did not create a firestorm every time Donald Trump makes a preposterous statement, he might not be sitting in the Oval Office right now. But nobody seems to call his bluff. Trump them once, shame on Trump. Trump them twice, shame on them. Or something like that.

Lauren A. Wright, Ph.D., is a lecturer in politics and public affairs at Princeton University and the author of “On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today.” You can follow her on Twitter @DrLaurenAWright.