Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Presidency a little over a year ago. I thought it was a a big joke. Because well, every single one of his stunts about running for office had been a stunt prior to that. Beyond that, I didn’t really think that Donald Trump would be able to garner that much support. how much support would a failed reality star and real estate mogul really get? But somehow he was able to navigate his way through the most crowded Presidential field in the history of presidential primaries. Trump has managed to cultivate a strong following for his supporters in his quest to win the White House. I do think, he’s ultimately a threat to our democracy as a demagogue with authoritarian tendencies, so you can take what I’m going to say with a grain of salt.
Question the legitimacy
On September 15, 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign issued a campaign release disavowing birtherism and stated that he alone was able to obtain the birth certificate of Barack Obama in 2011 so that Trump could believe that Obama was born in the United States and believed that since 2011. Trump held a press conference the next day where he talked about his hotel and refused to answer any questions but closed with saying that Obama was born in the US period and that Hillary Clinton started this conspiracy theory.
“Hillary Clinton, in 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. Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
It was awkward and full of lies.
The birther conspiracy isn’t part of the fringe in the Republican Party. According to a poll from YouGov in January of 2016, 53% of self identified Republicans said that they do not believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. An additional 26% are not sure where Obama was born. This is actually one of the higher numbers for birtherism. Public Policy Polling (PPP) which along with YouGov is one of the few polling outlets to ask this question wrote in 2011 that 51% of Republican voters did not think Barack Obama was born in the United States. That, itself, was an increase from August of 2009 when 44% of Republicans thought that Obama was not born in the United States.
Birtherism takes off and has stuck around because the legitimacy of a Democratic President has to be taken into question. Questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace is not the only way that some sought to question the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. In the third presidential debate, John McCain accused the community organizing group as “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
This line of attack worked. In November of 2009, PPP found that 49% of McCain supporters thought that ACORN stole the election for Barack Obama. ACORN was shut down in 2010 because they could no longer access federal funding. Congress had passed a law banning federal funding for any organization “that had been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws or campaign finance laws or with filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency.” ACORN shut down without this funding. But no matter, 50% of Mitt Romney supporters thought that ACORN stole the election for Barack Obama in 2012. So Congess decided to block funding, again, in 2013. Despite the fact that it is disbanded and defunded twice over, 32% of Trump supporters think that ACORN will steal the election for Hillary Clinton. In that same poll, we see that two-thirds of Trump supporters think that Hillary Clinton would be president only because the election results are rigged for her.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time that the Republican Party has questioned the legitimacy of a President. Richard Nixon accused John F. Kennedy and his campaign of rigging elections in Illinois and Texas. Nixon eventually conceded but the 1960 election vote frauds have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Republicans ever since. Nor is this the first time that they have questioned the legitimacy of a presidential candidate. In 1968, Mitt Romney’s father George had a short run for President. George was born in Mexico to his US citizen parents. There was a lot of talk about George Romney’s eligibility to potentially run for President. Ultimately, it did not matter as Romney made a remark about brainwashing and dropped out of the race.
Lies, damned lies, and press releases
The campaign press release from Donald Trump’s communication staff mentioned that Obama released his birth certificate in 2011 and that Trump then believed that Obama was born in the United States. Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April of 2011. In an interview in May of 2012 to The Daily Beast, he doubled down on this claim:
That’s what he told the literary agent. That’s the way life works… He didn’t know he was running for president, so he told the truth. The literary agent wrote down what he said… He said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia… Now they’re saying it was a mistake. Just like his Kenyan grandmother said he was born in Kenya, and she pointed down the road to the hospital, and after people started screaming at her she said, ‘Oh, I mean Hawaii.’ Give me a break.”
Later, that same month in an interview with Wolf Blitzer:
“Everybody’s entitled to your opinion. You know my opinion and you know his opinion and that’s fine. We’re entitled – as he said yesterday in the airplane – we’re all entitled to our opinions and he’s entitled to have his opinion. I don’t happen to share that opinion, it’s wonderful…Many people put those announcements in because they wanted to get the benefits of being so-called born in this country. Many people did it…Is it the most important thing? In a way it is. You’re not allowed to be the president if you’re not born in the country.
A Tweet from Donald Trump’s official Twitter account seemed to break the case wide open in August of 2012.
An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012
My favorite is this Tweet where he implies that there was a murder to cover up Barack Obama’s birth certificate. This tweet was posted in December of 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
Trump didn’t even move beyond this in January of 2016 saying that he has his “own theory on Obama. Someday I’ll write a book. I’ll do another book. It’ll do very successfully.” There’s plenty of other things out there that Trump has said about birtherism and he clearly played a significant role in pushing this conspiracy theory. He also clearly did not have a change of heart in April of 2011. Or if he did, he didn’t display it, in any fashion. There is simply no closure that Trump brought to the issue that Trump accepted. The biggest question is what caused him to change his mind on the issue. What happened in the last 8 months to seemingly convince Trump that Obama was born in the United States? Did his extremely credible source turn out to be a liar?
It’s clear that the campaign release left out quite a bit of details about how Trump got to this conclusion and when. It certainly wasn’t in 2011 when the long-form birth certificate was released.
Not that it stopped Trump and his campaign from spreading a lie that Hillary Clinton started the original birther movement. Andy Martin describes himself as “king of the birthers.” Martin is a Chicago based activist who first circulated the rumor in 2004. Most of Martin’s claims were centered around the idea that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim. Martin, like Trump, also touted his political power after Obama released his long-form birth certificate. Also, similar to Martin, he was accused of making racially insensitive remarks and anti-Semitic remarks that had somewhat of a following with neo-Nazis.
There was a memo in 2007 from discredited pollster Mark Penn where he wanted Clinton’s campaign to focus on him as unAmerican. Penn advised Clinton to focus every speech “born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century.” It’s not hard to see why Penn was terrible and was not invited back to Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Penn’s strategy also did not actually bring up questioning where Obama was born but to bring up his schooling in Indonesia and the like. Penn’s strategy was not actually taken seriously. A volunteer coordinator in Iowa forwarded a birther e-mail. She was immediately fired. This was followed by a phone call from Patti Solis Doyle to David Plouffe to personally apologize. I could go even further but it’s clear that Clinton’s campaign did not actually push the birther issue.
Trump exploited the idea that Obama was not a legitimate president because of the color of his skin or the way his name sounded. He capitalized on people’s fears and mistrust of someone that didn’t look exactly like them. He stoked these fears; he nurtured this idea and he has shown no remorse. His campaign is a series of lies, halftruths, and good old fashioned racism. Trump lies indiscriminately and reflexively. This is taken as a positive by his supporters. Except they assume he is telling the truth. They praise him for straight shooting and saying how it is. But as we’ll see, the way they think the world is, isn’t always how the world actually is and Trump obfuscates basic knowledge and his own stances with the talent of a compulsive liar.