Via Mediaite, it’s a strange but true fact that despite Birtherism having put Trump on the right-wing map in 2011 and despite his sporadic attacks on Ted Cruz’s citizenship in the primary due to his Canadian origins, he really has stayed far away from Birtherism over the past 14 months. And not for want of invitation either. He was asked about it by Anderson Cooper less than a month after he entered the race and gave basically the same answer he gave below, that he’s moved on. “I’m off that subject,” he told Cooper at the time. “I’m about jobs, I’m about the military, I’m about doing the right thing for this country.” That’s unusual message discipline by a candidate who’s not known for message discipline, to put it mildly.
What makes it even stranger is that Birtherism has always had a receptive audience among Republican voters. This data from NBC/SurveyMonkey is less than a month old.
A YouGov poll taken earlier this year found 53 percent of Republicans don’t think Obama was born in the U.S. Left-leaning pollster PPP has polled Trump supporters more than once about whether they believe Obama was born here and, relatedly, whether they think he’s a Christian or a Muslim. Last September, 61 percent of Trump fans thought Obama was born elsewhere and 66 percent believed he’s a Muslim. Eight months later, in May of this year, those numbers were basically unchanged among those with a favorable opinion of Trump at 59 and 65 percent, respectively.
Point being, Birtherism probably would have been a political winner for him in the primary among GOP voters. It would have proved his political incorrectness more dramatically than even his comments about Mexican rapists and banning Muslims from abroad did. He would have taken media heat for it, but media heat is a badge of honor to a Republican electorate. It’s curious that he had the good sense to lay off, especially if the rumors are true that he always imagined his campaign as a protest candidacy that stood little chance of winning the nomination. The fact that he skipped the Birther stuff suggests the opposite, that he was thinking about the general election from the beginning and didn’t want this to cannibalize the rest of his message. How you square that with his total indiscipline in, say, picking a needless fight with Judge Curiel at the start of the general election campaign this year, though, I don’t know. Maybe the truth about his reluctance to discuss it is simpler: Having already built his political brand around Birtherism, he knew he didn’t need to delve into it again in order to get the political benefits of it from Republicans. Better to ignore it and deny the media a reason to hassle him about it, knowing that his right-wing fans would quietly reward him for what he said about it in the past.