For Donald Trump, running for president means never having to say you’re sorry. He may have dropped the birther movement, but he’s not about to apologize for raising questions about where President Obama was born.
In fact, he seems intent on keeping the conversation going.
The Trump campaign announced on Tuesday night that one of Obama’s seven Kenyan-born half siblings would join his team in the debate hall tonight—a not so subtle reminder of the president’s roots, even if his birth certificate says Hawaii.
Trump’s grudge match against Obama is one of the driving motivations of his run for president. What a thrill it must be for Trump to have won the support of Malik Obama, who holds Kenyan and American citizenship, and is registered to vote in Maryland. At 58, Malik is three years older than the president, and is the eldest son of Barack Obama Sr. and his first wife.
Though he is a Democrat, he announced his support for Trump in July, saying he opposes Hillary Clinton’s support for same sex marriage and LGBT rights. He has also expressed hard feelings against the president, who he feels has not drawn him in as a close family member, instead treating him rather formally when he visited the White House.
President Obama’s best-selling memoir, Dreams From My Father, describes his visit as a young man to Kogela, Kenya, the village where his father was born, and his well meaning though clumsy efforts to bond with his relatives. In one anecdote, Obama tells of bringing some gifts and being greeted with disappointment when they weren’t top rated Sony products. America is the land of riches, and the expectations flow from there.
Presidential relatives are never easy, and Malik Obama’s declaration on behalf of the man who if elected would do his best to destroy his half-brother’s legacy, has to be seen in that context. Even so, Malik’s day job when he’s not in Kenya is overseeing the Barack H. Obama Foundation, which was created to support the family’s village of Kogela, Kenya.
I can’t recall any other presidential sibling who came out publicly in support of their relative’s opponent or chief adversary. That observation presents an opportunity to point out that Barack and Michelle Obama have given us eight scandal-free years, and if a half-brother wants to vote for Trump in a state that’s heavily Democratic to register his protest on deeply felt social issues, that’s not much of a scandal.
In recent history, beginning with President Nixon, there have been some doozies when it comes to siblings misbehaving. Nixon’s younger brother, Donald, borrowed $205,000, real money in those days, from Howard Hughes, a defense contractor, and when he couldn’t pay it back, the chain of drive-in burger joints Nixon was running in Whittier, CA eventually went under.
Billy Carter was the most colorful of presidential siblings. Almost two decades younger than his brother Jimmy, he was a hard-drinking party guy who tried to make money marketing “Billy Beer.” He was such a contrast to his pious brother that the press documented his every move, and he played to the crowd. Talking about his family, he said, “My mother went into the Peace Corps when she was sixty-eight. My one sister is a motorcycle freak, my other sister is a Holy Roller evangelist and my brother is running for president. I’m the only sane one in the family.”
Carter’s mother, Miss Lillian, was fiercely protective of her family and when asked once if she was proud of her son, meaning the president, she shot back, “Which one?”
Then there is Roger Clinton, Bill Clinton’s much younger half brother, who had some run-ins with the law mainly because of alcohol and drug abuse. He spent a year in jail in 1984 on a charge of distributing cocaine. While his brother was president, Roger tried to get his career going as a singer and actor, and while he never made it big, he stayed out of any real trouble and his big brother did include him in the rash of pardons he issued as he went out the door of the presidency in 2001.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, his two brother-in-laws were more troublesome, and that brings us to the potential return of the Rodham brothers, Hugh and Tony, Hillary’s two younger siblings. They have been noticeably absent from the campaign trail, which suggests all parties involved may have learned their lesson from the last time around. Hugh, a former Florida public defender, and Tony, who had worked as a private eye, drummed up a business plan in 1999 to import and process hazel nuts from the Republic of Georgia that ran into a buzz saw at the White House, where the scheme was nixed by the National Security Advisor. Hugh Rodham also surfaced as the beneficiary of $400,000 in legal fees helping people secure pardons from his brother-in-law. While it was legal, it looked terrible, and should serve as fair warning to the Rodham brothers not to try anything like that again if their big sister is president.