News Flash: Donald Trump now believes that President Barack Obama was born in the country of which he is president.
That news may be a relief to the president, although I doubt that he was losing much sleep over it.
After a night of oddly competing statements from Trump and his own campaign team, the Republican presidential nominee’s announced three things at his new Washington, D.C., hotel.
Two of those things were false. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” he declared on Friday morning. “I finished it. I finished it.”
No, there’s no evidence that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting birtherism, as PolitiFact found in 2015.
But the bizarre “birther” movement was fading in 2011 when Trump, the TV star and real estate developer, gave it new life through his well-developed capacity for self-promotion.
And he hasn’t finished it, either. Diehard birthers and other paranoids will believe what they want to believe, undeterred by anything so trivial as evidence or a lack of it.
Some folks still can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that Americans actually elected a black president, even after the president seemed to put it to rest with his roast of Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
Obama hilariously flashed his long-form birth certificate that night on a giant screen as Hulk Hogan’s theme song, “(I am a) Real American,” rocked the room.
Trump “can finally get back to the issues that matter,” the president told the black-tie crowd that included an unsmiling Trump. “Like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And – where are Biggie and Tupac?”
Yet the one true thing Trump said about the issue on Friday was his concession that, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” He left the podium without taking questions. The issue had served its purpose. Now after years of feeding hate and suspicion, Trump was eager to move on.
In a private August email among others that hackers recently leaked, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the uncensored truth:
“Yup, the whole birther movement was racist,” Powell, a Republican who endorsed Obama, wrote. “That’s what the 99% believe. When Trump couldn’t keep that up he said he also wanted to see if the certificate noted that he was a Muslim. … As I have said before, ‘What if he was?' Muslims are born as Americans every day.”
Responsible leaders in our very diverse society know they face a choice with their appeals to communities undergoing economic and demographic change: They can try to calm public fears and anxieties or they can try to exploit them to win votes.
Having benefited from his divide-and-conquer strategy, Trump has been reluctant to leave it, even as he tries to broaden his appeal to skeptical Republicans and independent swing voters who don’t want to be associated with such other questionable Trump fans as David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader and current Senate candidate in Louisiana.
The night before Trump conceded that Obama really is a natural-born citizen, his campaign issued a statement through spokesman Jason Miller saying, “Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.”
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has been saying the same in recent weeks. But why not Trump himself?
A few hours before Miller’s statement, Trump had awkwardly dodged the question of Obama’s birth after it was put to him by the Washington Post’s Robert Costa in Ohio. “I'll answer the question at the right time,” Trump told Costa. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
Maybe he had to sleep on it. Even after Trump surrogate Ben Carson had said Trump should apologize to black Americans for the birther business, The Donald was slow to let it go.
Polls offer a big reason why. A mid-summer NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, for example, found that 80 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement that “Barack Obama was born in the United States,” while 41 percent of Republicans disagreed with it.
Are they in the “basket of deplorables” that Clinton recently – and controversially – identified as a major portion of Trump’s voters? Of course, every Trump supporter is not a racist. But, if the shoe fits, wear it.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.