PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Real estate mogul Donald Trump, a possible GOP presidential contender who recently placed himself at the forefront of the birther movement, took credit Wednesday for the release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, saying that he was “honored” to have played such a big role in forcing the issue.
“I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,” Trump said upon arriving for a day-long trip to this key primary state.
Obama, a native of Hawaii, released a shorter birth certification document during the 2008 campaign. But until now he refused to publicly display the longer document, saying he did not want to spend time on or lend legitimacy to critics who questioned his citizenship.
Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon known around the world for his wealth and reality shows, suggested that there is still a need to verify the document
“I’d want to look at it, but I hope it’s true, so that we can get on to much more important matters, so the press can stop asking me questions. He should have done it a long time ago,” Trump said. “It is rather amazing that all of a sudden it materializes. ... But I hope it’s the right deal. We have to look at it.”
Trump had told several news outlets that he had investigators on the ground in Hawaii looking into the president’s background. He repeatedly embraced the conspiracy theory that the president had been born on foreign soil.
But even as he suggested that one controversy might be put to rest, Trump raised new questions Wednesday about Obama’s background.
“The word is, according to what I’ve read, is that he was a terrible student when he went Occidental. He then gets to Columbia. He then gets to Harvard,” Trump said. “I heard at Columbia he wasn’t a very good student. He then gets to Harvard. How do you get into Harvard if you’re not a good student?”
Obama, a former constitutional law professor and the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, is widely recognized as an intellectual heavyweight.
Over the past several weeks, Trump’s claims about the president’s birth dominated coverage of the GOP presidential race, even as many party leaders, like Karl Rove and Michele Bachmann, sought to put the conversation to rest. Polls showed that the controversy had gained some traction, especially among Republicans.
Trump — who arrived in Portsmouth aboard a black helicopter with red trim and his name emblazoned on the tail — spent the day in New Hampshire meeting with Republican party leaders and employees at a plant. He was also scheduled to travel to a lobster house.
He said that he plans to delay any decision about his future plans until the end of his reality television show “Celebrity Apprentice.” But he told the crowd of reporters who met him that the announcement would come before June.
“It’s very cool being a television star,” Trump said, as a black stretch limousine pulled up to whisk him off to his first stop.
Other presumed GOP 2012 candidates also have been making the rounds here in recent weeks, but none have generated the kind of interest that Trump has. Tickets to a May 11 event where Trump will meet with New Hampshire business leaders sold out quickly — 500 tickets in five hours.
But strategists familiar with New Hampshire — where voters expect to see candidates in their living rooms, not just on television — said Trump must learn what it means to be a candidate here. They said the secrecy surrounding the details of his eight-hour visit were not in keeping with the state’s grass-roots political tradition.
“New Hampshire is a wide-open forum, and the fact that Trump is world-famous will neither hurt nor help him,” said Steve Duprey, who helped Sen. John McCain(R-Ariz.) win New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in 2008.
“But any candidate who comes here who can’t release his schedule has a high hurdle to overcome. You have to engage voters in a localized, one-on-one manner. If security is an impediment, it’s impossible to do well.”
A recent Dartmouth College poll gave Mitt Romney the edge in a hypothetical state matchup with Obama, who has a 35 percent approval in the state, but showed Trump lagging behind Obama.
National polls show Trump with double-digit support and among the top tier of potential candidates.
Over the past few weeks, Trump has grabbed headlines and the spotlight, generating buzz and high poll numbers among possible competitors in what has been a slow-starting GOP field. He has emerged as a potential celebri-candidate, perhaps filling the void in a field of also-rans that has yet to produce a front-runner.
In addition to embracing the largely discredited birther movement, Trump offered a take-the-oil approach in Libya and Iraq. He has cited his business acumen and net worth as among his best qualifications.
In short, he has grabbed positions from different parts of the Republican spectrum, embracing far-right and fringe elements, as well as mainstream fiscal conservatism and a hawkish approach to foreign policy. He opposes abortion in almost all cases, and same-sex marriage.
At the same time, a Washington Post analysis shows that Trump historically has donated more money to Democratic candidates than Republican.
Trump was scheduled to have a private meeting Wednesday with Jack Kimball, the tea-party backed head of New Hampshire’s Republican party.
An aide pushed back against the idea that Trump was snubbing the campaign-style, hit-the-hustings approach that other potential contenders have taken so far in New Hampshire.
“This isn’t a meet-and-greet,” Michael Cohen said. “That’s coming up on May 11.”
At a local diner, Trump shook hands and posed for pictures, leading a reporter to ask whether it was true, as some have suggested, that he is a germophobe. “I have no problem, that’s a rumor that the enemies say,” he said at the Roundabout Diner and Lounge.
From there, Trump went to Wilcox Industries Corporation, a company that manufactures military equipment. In front of a crowd of about 100 people, he unloaded on the president, vowing that he would get tough on China and bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
“China is raping this country,” he said. “When this country became great was the industrial revolution. We are now the opposite of the industrial revolution, and pretty soon we are going to fall off a cliff.
“It’s a great place, Wilcox is so beautiful...this is what should happen, we shouldn’t be having things made in China and all over the world..This a great example of what we can do in this country,” he said. “I love New Hampshire.”
Trump will continue his tour of New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, with a luncheon and fundraiser with party leaders, and a meet-and-greet with local residents this afternoon.