It was a bit less than 10 years ago that President Trump first made his mark on Republican politics by embracing an argument that could most generously be described as quixotic. President Barack Obama, Trump claimed, wasn’t born in the United States. Or, Trump would claim while assuming a concerned affect that the question was up in the air, unresolved by Obama’s presentation of his certificate of live birth or a contemporaneous item published in a Hawaii newspaper.
“People have certificates; he doesn’t have a birth certificate,” Trump said to Bill O’Reilly, then of Fox News Channel, in April 2011. “Now, he may have one, but there’s something on that birth . . . maybe religion, maybe it says he’s 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 real time.”
Obama was born in the United States, of course, and later released a birth certificate that reestablished that fact for all but the most hardened of birthers, including Trump, who continued to hint at questions about Obama’s birthplace until January 2016. Later, during the 2016 campaign, Trump would claim credit for getting Obama to produce that birth certificate, as though it were necessary, suggesting that he had succeeded where Hillary Clinton had failed.
“I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate,” he said during the first presidential debate. “And I think I did a good job.”
It was nonsense from the start, but purposeful nonsense, meant to both elevate a fringe argument to appeal to a wing of the Republican Party but also to attack a president who was deeply unpopular with Republican voters. One doesn’t want to say the attacks made sense, really, but the rationale behind them was not hard to figure out.
Unlike Trump’s most recent birther conspiracy theory: that his own father wasn’t born in the United States.
As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports, Trump on Tuesday for the third time told an audience of reporters that his father, Frederick Trump, was born in Germany.
“My father is German — was German,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “Born in a very wonderful place in Germany, so I have a great feeling for Germany.”
This is simply not true, as we noted when he said it twice last year. But, to be fair to Trump’s internal logic, we hadn’t seen Fred Trump’s birth certificate, meaning that, apparently, the question was still up in the air. If Obama’s lack of a birth certificate left open the question of his birthplace, then presumably the lack of Fred Trump’s birth certificate would leave open the same question for birther purists such as the president.
So on Wednesday, I traveled to the New York City Department of Records. And, there, I obtained Fred Trump’s birth certificate.
Trump was born on Oct. 11, 1905, in the Bronx. His parents, as the certificate indicates, were born in Germany and had only recently arrived back in the United States at the time Fred Trump was born.
What happened, according to Gwenda Blair’s 2000 book, “The Trumps,” was that Fred Trump’s father, Friedrich, had migrated to the United States in 1885, eventually winding up in the Pacific Northwest, where he became a citizen. He’d pledged to his wife, Elizabeth, that if she didn’t like the United States, they could return to Germany. After moving back to New York City, he honored that commitment, and they returned to Germany in late June 1904.
But there was a problem. The German government took the position that Trump had moved away only to avoid the draft, given the timing of his departure and his return just past the conscription age. (Concerns about an unwillingness to complete military service would later become an issue for his grandson, as well.) A law passed in 1886 mandated that those seeking to avoid military service would lose their citizenship and be expelled from the country. So Trump and his family — including Elizabeth, now pregnant with Fred — departed the country for the last time on June 30, 1905.
They arrived back in New York in early August, settling back in the Bronx in a neighborhood now divided by the Cross-Bronx Expressway. And it’s there that Fred Trump was born, according to official New York City records.
So it is that we put to rest another Trump birther conspiracy. We were the ones who got the city to produce the birth certificate, and we think we did a good job.