The Slatest

Trump Just Launched Birtherism 2.0

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Trump International Hotel, on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Donald Trump on Friday renounced his belief in one birther conspiracy theory and simultaneously replaced it with another. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” the Republican nominee lied. “I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”

Trump did not elaborate any further, nor did he take questions from the press he had invited to a campaign event designed to double as an infomercial for his new Washington, D.C., hotel. But contained in his long overdue admission that Obama is indeed American-born were two related BS assertions from a man who sells bullshit by the bushel. Simply put: Hillary Clinton did not start the birther movement, and Donald Trump did not finish it.

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Fact-checkers at the Washington Post, PolitiFact, and Factcheck.org have all previously looked into the Clinton’s-the-original-birther claim—which Trump had previously offered 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 Trump surrogates like to cite was an 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. That internal memo, however, stated categorically: “We are never going to say anything about his background.” Meanwhile, while there were reports of some of her supporters pushing separate-but-related falsehoods about Obama’s faith, no one has ever uncovered a single example of Clinton publicly questioning that Obama is a natural-born citizen and she repeatedly declared that she took Obama at his word about his background. Furthermore, attempts by Obama’s political rivals to other him did not begin in 2008; they can be traced back at least to Obama’s 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

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Trump’s claim that he was the one who ended the entire affair is equally absurd. He didn’t explain on Friday how, exactly, he “finished it,” but a campaign spokesman had already filled in the details ahead of time in a statement released Thursday night:

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In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised. Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.

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What crap. For starters, the White House released Obama’s longform birth certificate in May of 2011 and yet it wasn’t until Friday—more than five years later—that Trump was willing to publicly concede for the first time that Obama was not born in Kenya. In the interim, he continued to sow doubts by suggesting that the release he wants credit for was actually forged, and with similar conspiracy-fueling comments like these:

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If Trump answered the question of Obama’s birthplace once and for all in 2011, then why was he still asking about it years later? Why was he still refusing to say publicly that Obama was born in the United States as recently as this week?

As for Trump’s assertion that he provided a public service by beating the birther drum louder than anyone else to help put the issue to rest: Look at the polls. An NBC News/Survey Monkey survey taken in late June and early July found that a staggering 41 percent of self-identified GOP voters disagreed with the simple statement that “Barack Obama was born in the United States,” while another 31 percent said they weren’t sure. That’s nearly 3 in 4 Republicans who expressed at least some doubts about an issue that Trump wants us to believe he was responsible for settling once and for all during Obama’s first term. Wherever could they have gotten that idea?

More than anything else, Trump has built his campaign on white America’s fears of the other—blacks, Hispanics, Muslims—and he laid the foundation for that by repeatedly telling voters that the black man currently sitting in the Oval Office has no right to be there. Friday, Trump finally conceded Obama’s presidential legitimacy after a half decade of doubting it. The only thing he deserves credit for is being an outrageous and disgusting liar. He is the best at that.

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

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