In other words, Trump has no fixed opinion on who killed the 35th president of the United States. He is conspiratorial but he is not a conspiracy theorist. He says whatever serves his purposes in the moment, which is not to say his views are unimportant.
Trump’s statements about JFK’s assassination are revealing about how he conceives of American history and they have public policy implications. If elected President Trump will face a decision about still-secret JFK records in his first year in office. Will he let the CIA keep on hiding JFK records or not?
What would President Trump do? His JFK comments provide some clues.
To the Daily Caller, a Washington Web site seeking to reassure themselves and others about Trump’s hard-right orientation,Trump says “Oswald acted alone,” which is a way of saying “Don’t worry, I don’t subscribe to left-wing conspiracy theories.”
But, back on the campaign trail, Trump needed to demonize his closest rival, so he jettisoned his lone gunman theory and appealed to the conspiracy-minded with an improvised JFK “theory” about accused assassin Lee Oswald and the father of Senator Ted Cruz that has been universally and definitively debunked.
Roger Stone’s influence
This is a political style that Trump picked up from Roger Stone, his once and future adviser, who had worked in Republican politics for 40 years. Stone was one of Trump’s original advisers but he quit the campaign last summer (or maybe it was the other way around.) In Cleveland, Stone is talking like he still has access to the candidate.
For Trump, as for Stone, charges of conspiracy are a standard-issue weapon in the war on liberals and liberalism. In an interview with JFK Facts, Stone explicated his “LBJ killed JFK” theory. He said:
Yes, I believe that LBJ spearheaded a conspiracy funded by Texas Oil and assisted by elements of the CIA and the Mob. Yes, I think LBJ’s unique relationships with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, defense contractors, Texas Oil, and organized crime allowed him to spearhead a conspiracy. All had a stake in Kennedy’s death.
As history, Stone’s conspiracy theory is dubious at best. As politics, it is an efficient way way to impugn the legacy of LBJ. The president who gave us the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, and Medicare –all of which the right resists 50 years later–was a corrupt monster. So, Stone’s insinuation suggests, the American liberal agenda is corrupt and monstrous. Such caricatures are Stone’s stock in trade.
But while Trump relishes Stone’s reactionary politics and bare-knuckle tactics, he isn’t interested in the details. Trump’s message is “Make America Great Again,” meaning roughly “make America what it was before civil rights, feminism, and mass immigration shuffled the cultural hierarchy,” i.e sometime before 1968. In the Trumpian cosmos, America was Great in 1963. So Stone’s implicit message that America was rotten to the core in 1963 sits poorly with Trump’s nostalgic politics.
As Stone told Politico, his longtime friend isn’t interested in information or the way it corroborates reality.
“When you know somebody that long, you get an understanding about how to affect their thinking without being, you know, without being insulting or overstepping a line,” he said. . “Nobody puts words in Donald’s mouth. He is his own conceptualizer.”
Trump does not conceptualize “JFK” as a historical event or even as an instance of conspiracy. Rather he understands “JFK” and “November 22 1963” as concepts that evoke a radical suspicion of the Washington government in the American audience. These concepts can be manipulated, conspiratorially or anti-conspiratorially, to advance his candidacy. Facts or coherence or historical veracity are irrelevant to his purposes.
Yet if he is elected, President Trump will have to decide whether or not to enforce the mass JFK declassification scheduled for October 2017. Hillary Clinton has already indicated she favors a “national security” loophole. Trump’s position will likely be whatever suits his political needs in the moment.