There’s a lot of chatter this morning about the new New York Times poll finding that 47 percent of GOP voters say Obama was born in another country, while 22 percent say they don’t know where he was born and under a third say he was born in the United States. That would appear to mean that over two thirds harbor doubts about Obama’s citizenship.
Is it a stretch to imagine that polling like this could very well tip Donald Trump into running for president?
To be sure, it’s hard to believe that this poll accurately reflects the actual beliefs of Republicans about Obama’s birthplace. It’s more likely, as Ben Smith notes today, that these numbers reflect general hostility towards Obama.
But the whole point of Trump’s newly-minted birtherism has always been to capture something larger than the birther constituency. Rather, it’s been all about finding a quick and easy way to tap into the GOP base’s rich vein of general fear and loathing of Obama, of which birtherism is only a symptom or an expression. Trump’s sudden success in GOP primary polls suggests he may be succeeding in this regard.
Now that Trump has bonded with GOP voters over hostility towards Obama, he’s already pivoting away from birtherism. In an Op ed in USA Today, he vows to turn to “critical issues,” claiming: “I have spoken my piece on this issue.”
Now that birtherism has served its purpose for Trump, he may very well tone it down. But whatever the actual views of Republicans about Obama’s citizenship, the continued willingness of GOP voters to express doubts about it could very well persuade Trump that there’s a growing audience for his particular brand of anti-Obama hostility, even if it no longer takes the form of birtherism. So why wouldn’t he run? There’s nothing the showman likes more than widening his audience, and his new act is doing just that.