On Thursday night, Donald Trump finally acknowledged an obvious, proven fact: President Obama was born in the United States. Or, rather, Trump's campaign said that he acknowledged it, in a statement that was itself riddled with falsehoods.
"Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President," the statement begins. That's untrue — and it's been fact-checked any number of times. In 2011, Politico outlined the origins; in May, our fact checkers dubbed it ridiculous.
"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," the statement continues. Again, Clinton wasn't looking for an "answer" to the non-question of where Barack Obama was born because her campaign wasn't pressing the issue. Even before the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate, an announcement of Obama's birth was found in a Honolulu newspaper. His 2008 campaign had released a statement of live birth demonstrating where he was born. Anyone who asked the question for whatever reason had the answer in front of them, if they chose to see it.
"Even the MSNBC show 'Morning Joe' admits that it was Clinton’s henchmen who first raised this issue, not Donald J. Trump," the statement goes on. Whether or not someone on "Morning Joe" said it — a show, we will note, that has spent an awful lot of time of late disparaging Trump — that doesn't make it true.
"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," it reads. "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." This is a remarkable pair of sentences. Terming the incident "ugly" and saying he's resolved it is a bit like a person intentionally running someone over, dumping them outside a hospital and then asking for a letter of commendation for wrapping things up so neatly. The "incident" was fostered and nurtured by Trump in the spring of 2011, who used his position of celebrity to draw attention to it — as part of his first exploration of running for president. It was only when Obama first released his full birth certificate and then mocked Trump at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner that year that Trump seemed to drop the issue.
The Trump team tries to spin that as a win. "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," the statement continues.
This compresses an awful lot of time. As I wrote last week, Trump continued to raise questions about Obama's birthplace for years after the release of the birth certificate. At a news conference immediately afterward, Trump said that "hopefully" the issue was resolved. He then encouraged Sheriff Joe Arpaio's quixotic attempt to prove the birth certificate a forgery, which was of course unsuccessful.
He tweeted in 2012.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2012
He tweeted in 2013.
How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2013
He tweeted in 2014.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2014
In 2015, he said, "I don't know" when challenged on the subject. In January, when the subject came up, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "Who knows?" That was eight months ago.
The statement then moves into a campaign sales pitch: "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." That last point is important: It's part of Trump's sales pitch to black voters. And lest you think that Trump's outreach to black voters didn't play a role in this, the campaign made clear to BusinessWeek's Joshua Green that it did.
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
It seems hard to believe that this statement will do much to assuage those voters' concerns. After all, this isn't an apology for Trump's birtherism, it's a rationalization for it — and not a very good one.
What's more, a critical part of the Trump campaign's statement is the signature it bears: "Jason Miller, Senior Communications Advisor." Clearly we can take Mr. Miller's word as the word of the candidate, right?
Don't believe the biased and phony media quoting people who work for my campaign. The only quote that matters is a quote from me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2016