Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tried to squash the growing controversy about whether he believed President Obama was a U.S. citizen with just five sentences uttered at the end of a veterans event last week. Here are those six sentences: "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”
In the wake of that statement, Trump's allies — led by campaign manager Kellyanne Conway — insisted that the issue was behind them. Trump had made clear where he stood. That was that.
Except, not really. Trump spent five years stirring up the idea that Obama wasn't born in the United States, using that issue — and its salience within some nooks and crannies of the Republican Party — to catapult himself into a viable position to run for president in 2016.
According to the invaluable Trump Twitter Archive, which sorts and catalogs Trump's tweets, the Republican nominee has sent 84 tweets referencing the possibility that Obama wasn't born in the United States. And, as recently as January — on the verge of the Republican primary season beginning in earnest — Trump floated the idea. "Who knows, who knows, who cares right now?" he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I'll write a book. I'll do another book, it'll do very successfully."
Given the depth of Trump's seeming commitment to birtherism, his conversion last week struck many as somewhat less than principled. Now, less than a week later, Trump is showing that all of the doubters may have had a point. Here's what he told a TV reporter in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday about Obama's birthplace:
— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) September 21, 2016
"Well, I just wanted to get on with, I wanted to get on with the campaign."
That's not "President Obama was born in the United States. Period." Not close.
But it is broadly consistent with Trump's line on birtherism on every day but that one last week. In an interview with The Washington Post's Robert Costa the day before he announced he had become convinced that Obama was born in the United States, Trump responded to a question about whether the president was born in Hawaii this way: “I’ll answer that question at the right time. I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
So, what do you believe? Trump's six-sentence statement made under duress or what he said (and tweeted) many times in the past and reiterated Wednesday? A thinking person chooses the latter every single time.
Trump was convinced by his campaign — most likely Conway — that continuing to leave some doubt about his position on Obama's birthplace was doing him harm among loosely affiliated Republicans that he badly needs to win. Trump agreed to say something definitive to put the issue behind them. But, saying something and believing it are two very different things.
Give Trump truth serum and ask him whether Obama was born in the United States, and my guess is the answer won't sound much like "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period."