Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

So it’s come to this: The institutional position of the Republican Party in the great birther controversy roiling the 2016 campaign — a consequential chapter in our political history — is now essentially that Donald Trump did the nation a service by forcing the first African American president to finally show his papers.

This new GOP storyline has gotten obscured by the ongoing back-and-forth in the media over various subplots (did Hillary Clinton start birtherism? did Trump really keep feeding this conspiracy after 2011?) that are related to the birther battle. Yet it’s unmistakably the larger narrative that the Trump campaign and top Republicans — including the chairman of the Republican National Committee — are telling right now. The Trump campaign’s effort to whitewash his birther history — in which he fed racist conspiracy theories for years — is being widely called out as dishonest. And that’s good. But Trump’s new narrative is actually a lot worse than the rendering of it we’ve seen in most media accounts suggests, and now the party has institutionally joined in promoting it.

Donald Trump's campaign praises the Republican presidential nominee for ending the 'birther' controversy while his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton says he must apologize to President Obama. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

On the Sunday shows, RNC chair Reince Priebus, GOP veep candidate Mike Pence, and other surrogates for Trump all made the same argument: Clinton started the birther rumors in 2008, and Trump ended them by compelling Obama to release his birth certificate, rendering this a settled issue, which Trump declared to be the case last week. Priebus said: “after getting this issue resolved, he proclaimed on Friday that he believes that the president was born in America.” Pence said that Trump brought the birther “issue to an end.” Chris Christie said: “after the president presented his birth certificate, Donald has said he was born in the United States, and that’s the end of the issue.” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said that he “put the issue to rest when he got President Obama to release his birth certificate years later.”

In other words, Trump’s birther crusade legitimately got results. That is their argument. Indeed, when Pence was asked directly on ABC whether it was wrong to push this “issue” for so many years, he dodged:

MARTHA RADDATZ: Do you think he should have promoted this birther issue for all these years? Was he wrong to do this?

PENCE: Our campaign just really isn’t focused on the past, Martha.

Now, the claims that Clinton started birtherism, and that Trump stopped pushing it after he forced Obama to show his papers in 2011, are both lies. And all the moderators of these shows did a good job in pinning down their interviewees on these points.

But in a way, to chase after those assertions is to get lost in a rabbit warren. It distracts from the larger point here, which is that the current official position of the Republican Party on Trump’s birther crusade is in some ways just as reprehensible as the crusade itself was. To be clear, Republicans like Priebus and Christie have long left no doubt that they themselves know Obama was born in the U.S. But their position right now is simultaneously that Trump’s years-long effort to “settle” this “issue” was nonetheless a defensible exercise that had a positive outcome. Indeed, their position is essentially that this “issue” might not be sufficiently settled for many people if Trump had not launched his crusade. In short, it’s that Trump finally got Obama to cough up his papers, and now we can all move on — thanks to Trump’s efforts.

It is likely that many Republicans and conservatives — such as Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio — see it as a blot on the history of the modern GOP that the party nominated someone who launched a years-long racist campaign to delegitimize the first African American president in the explicit belief that it would appeal to the racist tendencies of many GOP primary voters. Those Republicans might even say so right now if asked. But Trump has compelled the RNC not merely to participate in helping him push lies designed to muddy the waters around his birther history, but also — and this is the really important part — to institutionally defend that history. Indeed, while many Republicans previously repudiated this history, the RNC is now helping Trump validate it.

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 * TRUMP’S BIRTHER FOLLIES COULD HELP CLINTON: David Drucker talks to leading Democrats who see a chance to use Trump’s revival of birtherism as a way to energize the base:

Clinton’s drop in the polls corresponds directly to a significant diminishing of enthusiasm among registered Democrats. Recent surveys show them less likely to vote than just a few weeks ago. Reminding Democrats of Trump’s role in fanning “birtherism” could motivate them to re-engage with Clinton, while also hurting the Republican nominee’s ability to appeal to suburban swing voters.

In other words, Trump’s handling of birtherism has reignited a national debate about Trump’s racism, and the RNC has been forced to institutionally defend it, neither of which will likely help him.

* VERY TIGHT RACE IN FLORIDA: A new poll by The Upshot and Siena College finds Clinton leading Trump among likely voters in Florida by 41-40 in the four-way race, while they’re tied at 43-43 in the head-to-head. Trump leads among white voters by 51-30. But:

Mrs. Clinton appears on track for a record-setting state performance among Florida’s Hispanic voters. She leads Mr. Trump by a 40-point margin, 61 percent to 21 percent, more than doubling the 18-point margin President Obama recorded four years ago…She is also doing very well among black voters, though not quite matching the huge margin or the enthusiasm that Mr. Obama enjoyed in 2012, at least not yet.

This poll is based on voter files, allowing for a more fine-grained analysis of the electorate, so it may be more accurate than other polls showing her under-performing among Latinos here.

* VERY TIGHT RACE IN BATTLEGROUNDS: A new CBS News poll finds the race dead even among registered voters in the aggregate of 13 battleground states, 42-42. Note:

Trump leads by a wide margin on being trusted to change Washington: Forty-seven percent trust Trump to do it, 20 percent trust that Clinton can do it….Clinton does lead 47 percent to 39 percent on being trusted to handle the job well day-to-day, and by 43 percent to 34 percent on being trusted to act in a way that America can be proud of.

That’s the story of the race in a nutshell. By the way, Clinton has only dropped one point in this poll since last week, suggesting the race might be more stable than we’ve thought.

* TIM KAINE SHARPENS PITCH TO MILLENNIALS: On ABC’s This Week, Tim Kaine drew the contrast between the Clinton and Trump candidacies as follows:

“Do you believe in climate science or don’t you? Voters do and so do Hillary and I. Trump does not. Do you believe that women should make their own health care decisions or don’t you? Hillary and I do and so do voters. Donald Trump does not. Do you believe in LGBT equality or don’t you? We do, Trump doesn’t. Do you believe in immigration reform or not? We do, Trump doesn’t. And finally, do you believe that we need to do something about the cost of college, or don’t you? We do, and Donald Trump’s Trump University suggests he doesn’t.”

That seems heavily pitched to millennial voters, in keeping with the heavy play for these voters the Clinton campaign is set to make this week.

* CLINTON TO GIVE SPEECH TO MILLENNIALS: Clinton herself is set to deliver a speech today in Philadelphia that is aimed directly at millennial voters. As a Clinton adviser tells the Associated Press, these voters “have the most at stake in this election,” and yet “the campaign must do more to earn their vote.”

Polls show that more millennials than expected are supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson, and the campaign urgently needs to change that.

 * A PLEA TO MILLENNIALS: Paul Krugman has a message for those young voters who are thinking about voting for Gary Johnson:

How many people have actually read the Libertarian platform?…it calls for abolition of the income tax and the privatization of almost everything the government does, including education….What really struck me, however, was what the platform says about the environment. It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts.

Unfortunately, polling shows that disconcertingly large percentages of millennials see no difference between Clinton and Trump on climate. Hopefully Team Clinton’s new campaign can drive home the stakes.

 * AND THE TRUMPISM OF THE DAY: Trump is now defending his widely criticized decision to prematurely declare the explosion in New York City a “bomb” with this:

“What I said was exactly correct. I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news.”

Never mind whether rushing to judgment is a good quality in a president. What matters is that Trump was right before everyone else was.