In case you missed the conversation between Trump and ABC News's George Stephanopoulos, here's the key section of the show's transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're hitting them pretty hard as well. You actually sent out a retweet yesterday, suggesting that Marco Rubio might be ineligible to be president, a tweet that said both Cruz and Rubio are ineligible to be POTUS. Do you really believe that?TRUMP: I think the lawyers have to determine that that -- and not -- it was a retweet, not so much with Marco. I'm not really that familiar with Marco's circumstances --STEPHANOPOULOS: But then why retweet it?TRUMP: -- problem but I think that -- because I'm not sure. I mean, let people make their own determination....STEPHANOPOULOS: You're really not sure that Marco Rubio is eligible to run for president? You're really not sure?TRUMP: I don't know. I really -- I've never looked at it, George. I honestly have never looked at it. As somebody said, he's not. And I retweeted it. I have 14 million people between Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and I retweet things and we start dialogue and it's very interesting...
Now, for anyone not paying close attention or perhaps inclined to view Trump as a true straight-shooter and righteous enemy of political correctness who is just out here telling the American people like it really is, Trump's comments about Rubio might have sounded like just the ordinary business of running for president while being Donald Trump. But the truth is that Trump's comments actually constitute the first stage in a well-established pattern.
If you are Trump, first, you indicate that unidentified and, of course, well-meaning individuals have reasonable questions or doubts about the eligibility of a president or, say, a presidential candidate who is one of your chief opponents.
Then, you ramp things up with your own nebulous inquiry into said person's citizenship status or threaten to bring a suit that might do the same.
And finally, you start to prevaricate, dissemble and evade when asked directly about the facts. You step back and watch the seeds of your insinuations and allegations start to bloom in the form of think pieces, lawsuits, public allegations and questions all raised by others. And, if that starts to die down, you just start the whole cycle all over again, only you pretend you had nothing at all do with starting it in the first place.
The net result: You raise some suspicions in the minds of voters and, if possible, undermine your competitor's credibility and legitimacy.
Doubt that? Please take a tour with us through some of Trump's more remarkable birther moments -- in the form of public statements, interviews, tweets and retweets, then interviews about all of the above -- involving first Obama and then Cruz. Then, reconsider what Trump said about Rubio just this weekend.
March 2011, Fox News: "People have birth certificates. He doesn't have a birth certificate. He may have one but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn't born in this country, it's one of the great scams of all time."
June 2011, NBC News/Huffington Post after Obama released his long-form birth certificate: "Today I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish. ... I want to look at it, but I hope it's true. ... But he should have done it a long time ago."
August 2011, CNN regarding the work of investigators Trump dispatched to Hawaii: "I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they're finding. ... He spent $2 million in legal fees trying on to get away from this issue, and if it weren't an issue, why wouldn't he just solve it? ... I wish he would, because if he doesn't, it's one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in the history, period. You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in this country. Right now, I have real doubts."
Does Madonna know something we all don't about Barack? At a concert she said "we have a black Muslim in the White House."— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2012
July 2015, Politico: "Honestly I don't want to get into it. ... I don't know. I really don't know. I don't know why he wouldn't release his records."
September 2015, Washington Post in response to question about Obama's religion, citizenship and alleged Muslim training camps in the United States: "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We're going to look at that and plenty of other things."
January 2016, CNN/Business Insider: "Who knows? Who cares right now? We're talking about something else, okay? ... I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday, I'll write a book. I'll do another book. It'll do very successfully."
January 2016, Washington Post -- "I'd hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it, and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”
January 2016, CNN: "How do you run against the Democrat, whoever it may be, and you have this hanging over your head if they bring a lawsuit?"
I don't think Ted Cruz can even run for President until he can assure Republican voters that being born in Canada is not a problem. Doubt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2016
January 2016, CNN/Business Insider: "...[I]f Ted should eke it out -- and I hope that doesn't happen -- and he's got this cloud over his head, I don't think that it's going to be possible for him to do very well [in the general election]. I don't think it's actually possible for the Republicans to let it happen. Because he's got this cloud. ... There's this doubt. People have doubt. Again, this was not my suggestion. I did not bring this up. A reporter asked me the question."
February 2016, CNN/ABC News: "It was a retweet ... I'm not really that familiar with Marco's circumstances. ... I mean, let people make their own determination."
Do you see the pattern here? We certainly do.
And others have too. The Atlantic called Trump the "genius of the irrelevant smear." The Huffington Post described Trump as "one of the forefathers of the Obama birther conspiracy." And the National Review (which, of course, harbors no love of Trump) called Trump's various suggestions about Cruz's eligibility out-and-out self-serving.
The piece was written by a Cruz supporter. But, honestly, this guy has a point. Given the pattern above, it seems like more than just a coincidence that Trump has started applying his method to Rubio, just as Rubio appears to be locking down the "establishment lane" in the 2016 GOP contest.