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Trump Plays the Race Card as Obama Plays His Trump Card

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In releasing his full birth certificate today, President Obama finally played what my CNBC colleague, former Bush White House spokesman Tony Fratto, called his "Trump card." But was that enough to satisfy the Donald? Not by a long shot.

True to form, Donald Trump couldn't resist the glare of the spotlight this morning in New Hampshire, when he climbed off his helicopter and took credit for the White House decision to release Obama's long form birth certificate. "Today, I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Trump told the gaggle of reporters at an airport hangar in Portsmouth. "I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue."

Notice the language. "I'm very proud of myself. I've accomplished something. I am really honored." With Donald Trump, it's always about Donald Trump.

But with Trump's biggest campaign issue now put to rest, he desperately needed something else to get attention. First, he tried to squeeze the last bit of life out of the birther controversy. The president should have released the birth certificate "a long time ago," Trump said. Never mind that no other president in memory has ever been asked to show his birth certificate to prove his American citizenship, The Donald has spoken.

Next, Trump promised to examine the birth certificate personally. "We have to look at it. We have to see is it real? Is it proper? But I hope it checks out," he said.

Then Trump, the lead architect of the biggest campaign distraction so far this year, tried to blame the president for the distraction. Instead of talking about birth certificates, Trump said President Obama should be focused on gas prices, which according to Trump, is really easy to solve if Obama just "gets off his basketball court." That's rich. The guy who won't announce his candidacy for president because he's too busy taping a reality show is criticizing the guy who actually is the president for not taking his job seriously.

But there's a deeper meaning to Trump's basketball dig. Trump was once again reminding Americans that Barack Obama is, dare I say it, black. And not one of "the blacks" with whom Trump apparently gets along so well. Obama, in Trump's eyes, is not one of the exceptional blacks like Kwame Jackson, the Harvard MBA who finished in second place in the first season of Trump's NBC show The Apprentice.

Instead, Trump suggests that Obama is one of those stereotypical basketball-playing black men who are, presumably, too lazy or too dumb to get a real job, or to inherit their father's $40 million business, as Trump did.

Just in case you missed the "race card" there, Trump drove it home with his following point at the press conference -- that Obama did not deserve to go to Columbia or Harvard Law School. Although our last president was, by his own admission, a sub-par student, Trump argues that our current president, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, has risen through his life solely because he is the beneficiary of that dreaded right-wing conspiracy theory called affirmative action. That's the code language Republicans have been using for years to win votes in the south, and it's the same language my MSNBC colleague, former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, employed just this week to describe America's first black president.

So here we are in 2011, less than three years after the Wall Street financial collapse nearly brought down our entire economy, and we find ourselves debating what happened in 1961 when Barack Obama was born, and in 1991 when Obama graduated from law school. That's a tragedy for the American voters who deserve a serious election campaign to address the serious issues we face as a nation.

But let's be honest, this distraction is bigger than Donald Trump. Despite his success in the early polls, Trump may not run for or win the GOP presidential nomination next year, but he represents exactly what is wrong with the Republican Party. Trump is a wealthy businessman, flying around in a private helicopter, flirting dangerously with racist fringe elements, and firing workers every week on his TV show to promote his self-interests. That's not the image the Republican Party wants to project in the 2012 campaign. But for a party that wants to eliminate Medicare and affirmative action, deny unemployment benefits to American workers, and give tax breaks to billionaires like Trump, it's an image that hits all too close to home.