Donald Trump launched his political career on the fake news and anonymous sources that was birtherism, the unfounded conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. And he was apparently aware of how gullible his followers were, straight-up calling them "stupid," according to an editor who worked closely with Trump's son-in-law and close advisor Jared Kushner.
In fact, Trump widened that assessment from his initial base to encompass the entire GOP, says Elizabeth Spiers, the former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer, who reported to Kushner when he owned the paper. "He doesn't really believe it. He just knows Republicans are stupid and will buy it," Spiers says Kushner told her.
In a Facebook post, Spiers said the exchange arose from a discussion she was having with Kushner about how the paper should cover his father-in-law. She told him she was "particularly appalled" about Trump's birtherism stance, considering it racist, when Kushner brushed off Trump's seriousness.
Trump's entry into the Republican field was initially met with raised eyebrows; he reportedly identified as a Democrat for years, as did Kushner and his wife, Trump's daughter Ivanka.
Kushner bought the Observer in 2006 for $10 million, installing himself as publisher. Spiers worked for him from 2011 to 2012. Earlier this year, Kushner sold his stake in the paper to a family trust and stepped down as publisher. The Observer folded its print edition last November but continues online.
This week, the Observer laid off a culture writer who penned a viral open letter to Kushner last summer about Trump campaign materials that she considered anti-Semitic.
Last week, it was reported that Kushner was being scrutinized for his contacts with Russians during the presidential transition, allegedly suggesting a secret backchannel to Russia established through that country's embassy or consulate, beyond the supervision of the American intelligence community.
It's unclear whether Trump's opinion of his followers' collective brainpower is why he decided swathes of them might as well be fake. This week, several news outlets reported that nearly half of Trump's Twitter followers are bots.