After years of peddling a false conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, Donald Trump — just 53 days before Election Day — now says he believes the president was born in the U.S.
"President Obama was born in the United States. Period," Trump said at a campaign event in a ballroom in his new hotel in Washington. "Now, we want to get back to making America strong and great again."
But Trump did not apologize to President Obama.
Trump also claimed, falsely, that Hillary Clinton — "her campaign in 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. You know what I mean." That false equivalence is not true. See here and here and here. There's a big difference between what fringe supporters of Clinton said at the time, who were disavowed by the candidate, and the campaign Trump himself undertook in the subsequent years.
In a statement, Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook called Trump's actions "disgraceful." "After five years of pushing a racist conspiracy theory into the mainstream, it was appalling to watch Trump appoint himself the judge of whether the President of the United States is American," Mook continued. "This sickening display shows more than ever why Donald Trump is totally unfit be president." Clinton has called for Trump to apologize to President Obama and the American people for promoting the birther theory.
The reemergence of the issue that boosted Trump with a fringe, overwhelmingly white, conservative wing threatens Trump at a time when the presidential race has tightened. The birther movement — questioning the legitimacy of the first black president — has proven to be problematic for Trump in his attempts to appeal to black voters. It's something Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell called, in hacked emails, "racist."
For years, Trump elevated a conspiracy theory — not grounded at all in fact — that became so controversial the White House released a long-form birth certificate in 2011. Obama took to the White House Briefing Room to blast Trump as a "carnival barker." Obama lampooned Trump at that year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, as a stone-faced Trump looked on.
The birther issue still holds considerable traction with a large swath of Republican voters. An NBC/Survey Monkey poll this year showed that 41 percent surveyed disagreed with the statement, "Barack Obama was born in the United States." An additional 31 percent of Republicans neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement and only a quarter of Republicans surveyed believed Obama was born in the U.S.
Trump has been given several opportunities in this campaign to say that he disavowed the theory (or still believes it). He has repeatedly demurred and said he doesn't want to talk about it or that it's not the focus of his campaign.
The issue has burst into full view once again because of an interview Trump did with the Washington Post Thursday in which he still wouldn't say where he stands on the issue.
"I'll answer that question at the right time," Trump said. "I just don't want to answer it yet."
That despite his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, claiming a week ago that Trump does believe Obama was born in the U.S. To that, Trump told the Post, "It's okay. She's allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on other things."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a principal Trump surrogate, also claimed Trump now believes Obama was born in the U.S. and has believed it for five years after the White House released his long-form birth certificate.
But there's not only no truth to that statement — and a bombastic one released from his campaign Thursday night stating the same thing — there's evidence that as late as 2014 Trump was continuing to cast doubt that Obama was born in the U.S.
Asked in an interview with Irish TV, as reported by Buzzfeed, if he believes the president was born in the U.S. now finally after producing his long-form birth certificate, Trump said, "Well, I don't know — did he do it?" He added, "The president should come clean.
The interviewer followed up, noting that Obama "is a citizen and he produced that long form birth certificate."
Trump responded: "Well, a lot of people don't agree with you and a lot of people feel it wasn't a proper certificate."
At an event Friday morning before the Black Women's Agenda symposium, Hillary Clinton swatted at Trump, saying, "Bigotry lurks in our country," and that Trump owes President Obama an apology.
For his part, Obama, who asked by a reporter for his reaction during an Oval Office meeting on trade, seemed bemused. He said he had "no reaction and I'm shocked that a question like that has come up at a time when we have so many other things to do."
Then he paused and smirked. "Well, I'm not that shocked, actually. It's fairly typical. We got other things to attend to. I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well. My hope would be the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that."