As Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump traveled through Indiana on Monday, one day before the state’s crucial primary election, he stopped to have lunch with a notable human being: Edward Klein.
Klein is apparently an old friend. The former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief recently wrote that he’s known Trump “for 35 years, met with him on numerous occasions, talked to him on the phone countless times, traveled with him, and written two lengthy magazine cover stories about him.”
More importantly, though, Klein is also a expert on smearing Democratic politicians — particularly the party’s current presidential frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. After relatively respectable stints at New York Times Magazine and Newsweek, Klein essentially turned into a gossip columnist with a vendetta, writing negative and often salacious books on both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and the Kennedy family. Most of his books’ more controversial claims are based on quotes from anonymous sources, causing both conservative and liberal writers alike to raise serious questions about his credibility.
Though Klein insisted he was only travelling with Trump “to gather material for a new book,” the Washington Post reported, the timing was curious. Trump is less than 250 delegates away from securing his party’s nomination, and is increasingly uninterested in talking about his Republican opponents. “I would like to get onto Hillary,” Trump told reporters right before his lunch with Klein.
If Trump would indeed like to move on to attacking Hillary Clinton — and if he doesn’t care about whether his attacks are based in fact — then Klein is certainly the guy to talk to.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) May 2, 2016
Klein has so far written three books on Hillary Clinton, and they’re all filled with bombshells too good to be true for her opponents. Clinton, he writes, was once raped by her husband Bill — and their daughter, Chelsea, was conceived in the rape. Klein claims that Clinton has debilitating health problems, including a brain injury that has her constantly fainting. Klein has a whole book dedicated to an alleged “blood feud” between Clinton and President Obama, which includes an absurd-sounding passage where Clinton thoughtfully sips a glass of wine and says to a group of her friends, “You can’t trust the motherfucker.” Klein also alleges that Clinton and Obama once got into a physical fight.
All of this, of course, is based on anonymous sourcing. A “cardiologist” here, a “Wall Street Insider” there, a “source close to Valerie Jarrett” nearly everywhere else. Even ultra-conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has questioned Klein’s credibility when it comes to sources, implying in a 2014 interview that some of the quotes were just literally unbelievable. “Some of the quotes strike me as odd, in the sense that I don’t know people who speak this way,” Limbaugh said. Salon reporter Simon Maloy puts it more bluntly: “Ed Klein is a hack, a conspiracy theorist, and a fraud,” he wrote. “All of these hot scoops are based on anonymous “sources” who always happen to be present when the most powerful people in the country cook up their various schemes and conspiracies, and who then provide verbatim details of those highly scandalous conversations exclusively to Ed Klein.”
Of course, it is not odd that Trump would dine with such a polarizing person. In fact, it’s par the course for Trump’s strategy in the run-up to a potential general election face-off with Clinton. Trump himself has been attempting to tone down his trademark inflammatory rhetoric. But at the same time, he’s surrounded himself with men who gained success by provoking offense and appealing to shock value.
Last month in New York, for example, as Trump stood behind a podium and called for unity within the Republican party, he was flanked by a man named Carl Paladino. An original Tea Party hero, Paladino is known for more than a few zany antics: forwarding emails containing racist memes and horse porn; brandishing baseball bats in the state capitol; bragging about boycotting a gay pride parade; and claiming people on welfare need to be taught personal hygiene, among other things.
Trump, for his part, said recently that there would be no such zaniness from him if he’s elected president. “I will be so presidential, you will be so bored,” he said in April. “You’ll say, ‘Can’t he have a little more energy?’”
Two weeks later, Trump accused his opponent Sen. Ted Cruz’s father of helping to assassinate John F. Kennedy.