WaPo asked him about it in an interview yesterday and he said “I’ll answer that question at the right time. I just don’t want to answer it yet.” Someone in the Trump campaign must not have liked the idea of letting this issue linger, though, especially at a moment when he’s trying to pander to wary college grads by “softening.” So, within a few hours, this statement appeared on the campaign website:
“Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President. This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook. As usual, however, Hillary Clinton was too weak to get an answer. Even the MSNBC show Morning Joe admits that it was Clinton’s henchmen who first raised this issue, not Donald J. Trump.
In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised. Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.
Mr. Trump is now totally focused on bringing jobs back to America, defeating radical Islamic terrorism, taking care of our veterans, introducing school choice opportunities and rebuilding and making our inner cities safe again.” – Jason Miller, Senior Communications Advisor
Case closed? No. Trump has warned people before that when it comes to statements made by staffers within his campaign, “the only quote that matters is a quote from me!” A campaign statement’s not going to hack it. His team must have huddled with him last night and convinced him that now’s the time, as he’s trending upwards in the polls, to finally put this to bed. He doesn’t want to have to delve into it at the debates; caving on the birth certificate today means he can say, when the moderators inevitably press him on it, that he addressed these issues at this morning’s presser and would refer them to that.
The campaign statement from Jason Miller tells you how this is likely to go. Trump will try to save face by congratulating himself for having forced Obama to be transparent, then he’ll smash Hillary for having been the first to raise this “smear.” And there’s some truth to that. Clinton’s chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, wrote a memo in 2007 highlighting Obama’s foreign upbringing and emphasizing that he “is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values,” which is what Birtherism is all about, although Penn never quite went the whole nine yards and suggested that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii. Trump’s going to use that as a tu quoque on Hillary, to try to get black voters wondering about her — although the idea that this guy, of all people, is now going to affect fake outrage at Birtherism being a “smear” after doing more to promote it than anyone else in the United States is a show of brass balls so brazen, who knows what the media fallout will be. Clinton herself got out in front of the coming attack this morning:
Clinton on birtherism and Trump pic.twitter.com/vJKGlnPyED
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) September 16, 2016
Regardless, the strategic thinking here by Team Trump is obvious:
THE THINKING: What Trump says at hotel on Obama birth meant end arguably final obstacle to getting voters on board, his strategists think.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 16, 2016
Trump chiefs describe his speech this morning as doing smart thing to remove last vestiges of an issue Clinton campaign could attack on.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 16, 2016
There’s also this, which makes me laugh at the sheer cynicism of it. Only now, after five years plus three weeks of gladhanding black voters at events, does Trump realize blacks might be sensitive to the idea that the first black president isn’t American the same way everyone else is:
Trump official tells me: "Trump now understands the importance of the issue in the African-American community to a degree he had not before”
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) September 16, 2016
I don’t think Trump is aiming this mainly at blacks. As usual, his racial outreach is designed mostly to impress upscale whites, whom he needs badly in November to win but who worry that he’s a crackpot. Today’s presser is him saying, “See? No more crackpot!” Walking back Birtherism feels like Alex Jones announcing that, okay, Al Qaeda blew up the Twin Towers after all but in any case 9/11 Truth didn’t originate with him and he should be praised for now showing civic virtue in announcing that the case is closed — and saying all of that while he’s running for office. If Trump was really the speaks-his-mind anti-PC candidate he’s cracked up to be, he’d say that he’s giving up on Birtherism now for the same reason that he picked it up in the first place, because it was somehow in his interest to do so. The Birther stuff got him lots of free media in 2011, when he first considered running for president, it earned him “politically incorrect” cred among grassroots Republicans, and it forced the most powerful man in the world to answer his charges. Now it’s holding him back among voters so he’s going to drop it like a hot potato. De-legitimizing a black president served his purpose and now it doesn’t, so, hey.
Oh, and the bit in the statement about how Trump brought Birtherism to a conclusion in 2011 is an out-and-out lie. BuzzFeed has several pieces today flagging instances since then of Trump flogging the issue. Why Team Trump would claim that this was put to bed when Trump has gone on the record many times since suggesting that it hasn’t been, I have no idea. Maybe they’ve concluded that the public will swallow anything Trump tells them now. In lieu of an exit question, here’s a tweet from 2013: