Donald Trump is the immigration candidate. Nobody this cycle has come out swinging quite as hard as Trump, who, during his first press conference as a Presidential candidate, labeled illegal immigrants as “drug dealers,” “murderers,” and “rapists.”

“Some of them, I assume, are good people,” he concluded, almost as an afterthought. Turns out one of the “good illegals” might just be his wife, Melania.

The Controversy

The Donald came under a new wave of criticism recently when it came to light that his wife may have violated the United States’ visa rules when she arrived in New York City and began her career as a model.

Incriminating evidence arrived in the form of nude photos from a 1995 photo shoot. They directly contradict Mr. Trump’s claims that Melania began her work in this country in 1996. The French magazine that took the photos no longer exists, but the photos have been making the rounds on the internet for a few weeks now.

The owner of another modeling agency says he sponsored Trump’s wife for a work visa in 1996, but says nothing of the earlier shoot from 1995. The funny thing is, this type of visa is itself a target for Mr. Trump’s scorn — he has spoken out strongly against the H1B-type work visa, suggesting it’s one of the most frequently abused types of visas issued to foreign workers.

The Trumps’ Rebuttal

The Donald himself has, so far, not addressed this controversy directly — perhaps because of the toll this level of cognitive dissonance would take on an already addled mind. Instead, he’s letting his wife come to her own defense — a defense that sounds pretty weak and insubstantial, and arrives, like everything else furnished by the Trumps, without a shred of evidence:

“In recent days there has been a lot of inaccurate reporting … concerning my immigration status back in 1996. I have at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country. Period.”

Decisive, no?

Needless to say, this hasn’t helped her case much — not when there’s no evidence to back her up, and when there’s still scorn aplenty coming her way for apparently lifting parts of her RNC speech from, of all people, Michelle Obama.

We say this every time one of the Trumps does something asinine, so let’s stick with tradition: Is this finally one controversy too far?

Where’s the Moral High Ground?

For Trump’s True Believers®, the answer is unquestionably no. At this point, it’s clear there’s nothing Trump could do or say that would sway them from their “Make America Great Again” siren song. These are people who clearly don’t keep up with the news, so it’s rather unlikely they’ve cracked a dictionary in an effort to fully understand the word “irony.”

And the irony here is of historic proportions, clearly. Trump has built his campaign around vilifying illegal immigrants of all kinds — and now the news breaks that his wife may well have been one herself. No wonder he’s remaining silent and letting his wife twist in the wind — what could you possibly say to answer that kind of blow to the very foundation of your poisonous ethos?

But let’s come at this from another angle.

There is a hell of a lot of other things we could criticize Trump for. For example, he appears to know nothing about economic or foreign policy. He hands out advisory roles to his biggest campaign donors. If we want to criticize this damaged, dangerous man properly, there’s no shortage of ways to do it.

But dragging his wife into the spotlight feels, well, like a very Donald Trump thing to do. We’re not addressing the hatefulness of his claims — not really. Instead, we’re using a woman’s uncertain past with the immigration office to tarnish his reputation — and, of course, hers as well. We’re not calling him out for painting all illegal immigrants as moral degenerates — instead, we’re reveling in merely catching him in a lie.

In fact, all we’re really doing is granting legitimacy to his claims. This is gotcha journalism at its worst. Might be satisfying to catch Trump being a hypocrite, but let’s face it — that’s not particularly hard to do. And there are other ways to do it without tacitly agreeing that he might have a point about immigration.

Remember the outrage when Trump went after Ted Cruz’s wife? It was well-warranted. Ted Cruz is a walking, talking case of rectal cancer — but dragging his family into the public spotlight to damage him was a low blow, even in a campaign where candidates openly talk about their genitals on live television.

There’s another way this could have gone: We could have used Melania Trump as an example of the need for comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship for all illegal immigrants. This controversy could have moved us toward a productive conversation. Instead, we’re only confirming Trump’s claims that, yes, sometimes visas get abused. Melania didn’t do any of this with malice in her heart — she deserves better than to have her worth as a human being distilled down to “what type of visa did you have?” and “when were you granted said visa?”

That’s the kind of vengeful, legalistic bullcrap that Trump loves rolling around in — and by turning his wife into his Achilles heel, we’re letting ourselves play by his rules. We’re better than that.

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Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is the author behind Only Slightly Biased, a freelance journalist and striving to be one of the best women political writers on the web. Her work has been featured on Yahoo Finance, Fortune, Politicus, Bust and Feministing. You can find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman.

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