The Slatest

Team Trump Says Its Candidate Believes Obama Was Born in the U.S. Why Won’t Trump Say It for Himself?

Donald Trump speaks to the crowd at a rally at the Mississippi Coliseum on Aug. 24 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s campaign manager, his top surrogates, and his VP pick are now all in agreement: The GOP nominee accepts the fact that President Obama was indeed born in the United States. Noticeably absent from that list of those who publicly say the candidate believes Obama was born in the United States is … Donald Trump.

“He believes President Obama was born here,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Friday when pressed on the matter by CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “He was born in Hawaii. The point is what kind of president has he been. So he is born in the United States—no question, he was born in the United States. He has not been a particularly successful president. That’s what this campaign is about, on our side.”

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Conway’s attempt to shrug off her boss’s well-documented birtherism came at the end of a week that saw several of Trump’s most high-profile surrogates go on record rejecting the Trump-endorsed conspiracy theory that claims—against all evidence to the contrary—that Obama was actually born in Kenya and forged his birth certificate to cover that up. On Tuesday, Ben Carson suggested Trump should apologize for feeding that frenzy. On Wednesday, Mike Pence said that he “accepts” that Obama was born in the United States. And on Thursday, Rudy Giuliani said that not only does he believe Obama was born in America, but so does the man they’re all stumping for.

“I confirm that, and Donald Trump now confirms that,” Giuliani told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when asked the question. Pressed to explain when exactly Trump changed his mind on the matter, the former New York City mayor suggested that it happened years ago. “He did two years ago—two years ago—three years ago,” Giuliani said, later revising the higher end of the range up to five years ago, and also suggesting that it was Hillary Clinton who pushed the Kenya idea in the first place during the 2008 Democratic primary.

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The technical word for Giuliani’s spin job is bullshit. Fact-checkers at the Washington Post, PolitiFact, and Factcheck.org have all previously looked into the Clinton’s-the-original-birther claim—which Trump has offered himself as an occasional line of defense dating back to at least last year—and found no link between Hillary and the racist rumors. (The alleged smoking gun was a 2007 strategy memo written by a Clinton adviser that suggested it would be in Hillary’s interest to play up Obama’s multiculturalism in subtle ways. Even that memo, however, stated explicitly: “We are never going to say anything about his background.” Clinton and her campaign never publicly questioned that Obama is a natural-born citizen—though the story surrounding the spread of false rumors about Obama’s faith is somewhat more complicated.)

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Trump has never admitted he was wrong on the topic of Obama’s birthplace. Here he was only days ago while speaking to reporters on his campaign plane:

I don’t talk about it because if I talk about that, your whole thing will be about that. So I don’t talk about it.

Meanwhile, Giuliani’s suggestion that Trump may have changed his mind five long years ago is particularly galling given four years ago Trump was tweeting things like this:

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More than anything, Trump has built his campaign on white America’s fears of the other—blacks, Hispanics, Muslims—and what better way for him to harness those fears than by telling voters that the man currently sitting in the Oval Office has no right to be there. Trump spent years beating the birther drum for his own political gain, and while he has avoided explicitly repeating the nonsense this year, he continues to question Obama’s American-ness in other (relatively more subtle) ways.

The biggest question now is whether Trump is willing to actually say for himself what his team is saying for him. It’s hard to imagine Trump, a man who prides himself on never admitting he was wrong about anything, getting the words out without reflexively adding in one of his I-was-being-sarcastic-but-not-that-sarcastic asides. With the first debate less than three weeks away, we should soon find out.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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