Trump Campaign Splits With Trump, Disavows Birtherism

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“Weird, I don’t remember saying that.”Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Everyone knows that two wrongs don’t make a right, but maybe that equation changes when you tack on multiple statements that are completely wrong? That’s the strategy the Trump team tested on Thursday night after the candidate refused to say whether President Obama was born in the United States, even after several top surrogates reported that he’s rejected birtherism.

During an interview conducted while Donald Trump’s private plane was idling on a tarmac, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa asked if Trump would finally admit that Obama was born in the United States. “I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”

Costa then asked if that means Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was wrong when she said last week that Trump now believes Obama was born in Hawaii. “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 said.

Other Trump surrogates have tried to quash the birther controversy in the last week, with Mike Pence saying he “accepts” Obama’s birthplace, Rudy Giuliani falsely claiming that Trump rejected birtherism two years ago, and Ben Carson calling on Trump to apologize.

Trump explained, once again, that he has simply decided not to discuss his years-long effort to delegitimize the first black president of the United States. “I don’t talk about it anymore. The reason I don’t is because then everyone is going to be talking about it as opposed to jobs, the military, the vets, security,” he told Costa.

Many on Twitter speculated that Trump’s hesitance meant the master showman was waiting to renounce birtherism in a dramatic debate moment. Then the Trump campaign revealed that the “right time” was actually a few hours later on Thursday night.

But upon further inspection, it’s campaign spokesman Jason Miller who’s disavowed birtherism, not Donald Trump. While the statement says “Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States,” there is no quote from the candidate clarifying his previous remarks. And while in a normal campaign you can assume that the candidate agrees with statements released by their campaign, that’s not the case with Trump. Allow him to explain:

Furthermore, Miller’s statement contains multiple incorrect statements. First, it claims birtherism originated with Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Trump has made this accusation before, though both the Washington Post and Politifact concluded that while questions about Obama’s birthplace did originate with Clinton supporters, there is “no direct tie to Clinton or her 2008 campaign.”

It’s interesting that the Trump campaign now characterizes birtherism as an “ugly incident,” but the assertion that Trump considered the case closed once Obama produced his birth certificate in 2011 is untrue. (And the idea that he did President Obama a favor is laughable.) Here’s Trump in 2012:

And in 2013:

And 2014:

And 2015:

And January of this year:

To make matters worse, the campaign told BusinessWeek’s Joshua Green that Trump has shifted his stance on birtherism (which he has yet to do publicly) because he suddenly realized how offensive it is to black voters:

Clinton said Trump’s inability to admit Obama is American is yet another example of his bigotry:

But then her press secretary set Trump up to claim a victory if he does mumble “sorry” during the debates:

After years of questioning President Obama’s citizenship, Trump shouldn’t be celebrated if he offers a halfhearted apology, and journalists shouldn’t let his campaign spread the lie that he actually dropped the birther issue in 2011. But maybe they will. According to CNN’s Don Lemon, Miller’s statement means that birtherism is “done, this issue is over,” and we have Trump to “credit for at least now he’s admitted it, I mean somewhat. You give him some credit for that.”