Donald Trump’s latest fact-freedom

Last night, Donald Trump began his first answer to a question about immigration by modestly declaring that we wouldn’t even be talking about the issue without him. Like much of what Trump says, this is self-inflating nonsense.

Trump didn’t run for president in 2012. Yet, somehow, the issue was front-and-center in Republican debates that year. In fact, before Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, he got himself into trouble for being soft on illegal immigration because he favored tuition assistance for illegals.

It’s true that the Republican establishment, stung by Mitt Romney’s poor showing among Latinos, encouraged the Party to take a kinder, gentler stand on the issue this time around. And too many leading contenders — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and at times Scott Walker — have done so.

But it’s ludicrous to suppose that, with Bush and Rubio so vulnerable with the base on immigration, the Fox News questioners would not have raised the issue last night if Trump hadn’t run. And it’s preposterous to imagine that a candidate like Ted Cruz, who has taken a hard line on the issue, would not have differentiated himself from his fellow 40-something Latino Senator on immigration.

Trump’s contribution to the immigration issue doesn’t consist of raising it. Rather, it’s the way he raised it, by insulting illegal immigrants and the Mexican government.

The Mexican government deserves, at some level, to be insulted. But Trump was unable last night to defend his claim that the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border.

Asked by Chris Wallace for evidence that supports this assertion, Trump initially did not provide any. Pressed by Wallace in a follow-up, Trump cited “border patrol people” who told him that it was true. He then tried to cover his tracks, adding with characteristic bombast:

Our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid, and the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning, and they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them, they don’t want to take care of them. Why should they, when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them? And that’s what’s happening, whether you like it or not.

So there.

Assertions about the relative intelligence about Mexican and American leaders (if Mexican leaders are so smart, sharp, and cunning, why is their country in such bad shape) aren’t evidence that the government is the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border. References to alleged comments by “border control people” — served up only after initially ducking the question — aren’t at all persuasive.

PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times’ fact checking operation, found no evidence to support Trump’s assertion about the Mexican govenment. It rates the claim “pants on fire.”

I put no stock in PolitiFact, but I have great respect for Mark Krikorian, one of the immigration experts it interviewed. Krikorian says “no, the Mexican government doesn’t force anyone to move here illegally, though it certainly doesn’t object.”

In sum, Trump is making it up — both his claim about the Mexican government and his puffed up assertion that the GOP wouldn’t be debating immigration policy if not for him.

As George Will says, Donald Trump is running a “fact free campaign.”