Donald Trump conceded publicly for the first time on Friday that he now believes Barack Obama was born in the United States after years of propagating a debunked theory that Obama might have been born overseas and was thus ineligible to be president.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” Trump said in a brief statement after teasing a big announcement to the press. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Ironically, in announcing that he was renouncing a debunked conspiracy theory about Obama’s nation of origin, Trump propagated another debunked conspiracy theory that it was Clinton who started that movement when in actuality the movement was fueled in large part by Trump. It was one of the most black-and-white newspeak moments of an entire campaign that has been filled with lies and smears from an awful Trump candidacy.
The move was spurred by a Washington Post interview Trump gave on Thursday during which he once again refused to say definitively that Obama was born in the United States.
“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said when asked whether he believes Obama was born in Hawaii. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
From that Post story:
When asked whether his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was accurate when she said recently that he now believes Obama was born in this country, Trump responded: “It’s okay. She’s allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on other things.”
Trump’s campaign soon after released a statement full of factual inaccuracies claiming that Trump “did a great service to the President and the country” by pushing the conspiracy theory to the point that it seemed to inspire the president to release his longform birth certificate in 2011.
“Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States,” the statement from Trump spokesman Jason Miller read.
That statement also inaccurately blamed Clinton for being the first birther, again another theory for which there is no evidence. “Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President,” Miller wrote. “This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook.”
The move by Trump is a reversal of a longtime stance of his. In fact, even long after Obama had released that birth certificate, Trump was still questioning whether or not it was a fake.
On the same day he held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney in May 2012, Trump brought up a story that implied that Obama might have lied about his nation of origin. “It all wouldn’t matter, except if you’re born in a foreign country, you’re not allowed to be president, so you know this is a minor detail,” Trump said at the time.
As BuzzFeed reported on Thursday, Trump told an Irish television station in 2014 that the issue had not been settled yet. At the time he also promised to release his tax returns if he ran for president, something he hasn’t yet done because he claims he cannot due to the fact that he is facing an IRS audit (there’s nothing preventing him from releasing those returns and his son Donald Trump Jr. said this week the true reasons are political.)
“You questioned his citizenship during his campaign, and you said afterwards if he produced that long-form birth certificate, you’d produce your tax returns. But you didn’t do it, did you?” asked Ireland TV3’s Colette Fitzpatrick in May 2014.
“Well, I don’t know—did he do it?” Trump said. “If I decide to run for office I’ll produce my tax returns. Absolutely. I would love to do that.”
“The president should come clean,” Trump continued. When confronted with the fact that Obama had released a birth certificate and was thus a citizen, he responded: “Well, a lot of people don’t agree with you and a lot of people feel it wasn’t a proper certificate.”
Obama responded to the news that Trump would be conceding the president was born in the United States with a brief statement. “I was pretty confident about where I was born,” Obama said. “I think that most people were. My hope would be that the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that.”
The belief that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, a conspiracy theory for which Trump was the chief avatar, is still a popular one among Republican voters.
A poll conducted in June and July by NBC News and SurveyMonkey showed that only 27 percent of registered Republicans would agree with the statement “Barack Obama was born in the United States.” The plurality of Republicans, 41 percent, said they disagreed with the statement and another 27 percent would neither agree nor disagree.
Speaking before Trump, Hillary Clinton called on her Republican rival to apologize for propagating the theory.
“Donald’s advisers had the temerity to say he’s doing the country a service by pushing these lies. No, he isn’t. He is feeding into the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country,” she said. “Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology.”
Clinton has faced heavy criticism in the last week for saying that a large portion of Trump voters are “deplorable” bigots.