If you weren’t sure whether or not the presidential campaign exists in some far-fetched Lewis Carroll story, this morning’s events should have removed all doubt.
Yesterday, Donald Trump once again refused to say whether or not he believes President Obama was born in the United States. Last night, Trump’s campaign issued a bizarre statement claiming that the Republican candidate no longer believes the “birther” conspiracy theory that’s come to define much of Trump’s political persona. And this morning, well, something very odd happened.
Donald Trump on Friday finally conceded that President Barack Obama was born in the United States and falsely blamed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for starting rumors about the president’s citizenship.Thirty minutes into an event that was billed as a “major announcement” that was in reality just a free advertisement for his new hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump espoused 46 words, addressing the birther issue. He then took no question from the press who stood up, even on chairs, and yelled questions over six rows of Trump-invited guests.
Remember in June, when Trump traveled to Scotland the day after the Brexit vote, and the only thing the GOP candidate wanted to talk about was his new golf resort – as if it, and not the vote, was the real story? This morning was a bit like that, only slightly more baffling.
Trump called a press conference in D.C., where he spoke at some length about his hotel and how impressed he is with the venue’s new ballroom. Eventually, the Republican briefly touched on the subject at hand: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.”
Except no one has any idea what he means. The first two relevant sentences in Trump’s remarks – (1) Clinton started the birther controversy and (2) he “finished it” – are both brazen lies. In reality, the Clinton campaign wasn’t responsible for launching this garbage, and Trump wasn’t responsible for resolving it.
After years of questioning the president’s birthplace and the legitimacy of his birth certificate, Trump added, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
The Republican nominee then ran away, answering no questions.
Trump offered no explanation for why and how he reversed course on one of his signature issues; he expressed no regret for having peddled the racist conspiracy theory for so many years; and he provided no evidence to support his new Clinton-related falsehoods. Instead, Trump blamed someone else for the mess he helped make, briefly acknowledged a reality that was obvious to sensible people many years ago, and then fled the room.
Why did Trump stick to the conspiracy theory as recently as January? He didn’t say. Why does Trump now accept a birth certificate he used to dismiss as a “fake”? He didn’t say. Why did Trump give a wink and a nod to his radical base this morning by having a birther introduce him at this morning’s event? He didn’t say.
I get the sense we’re now supposed to think this is over. Trump believed something crazy, but now he doesn’t, so we’re all supposed to just move on. There’s no reason for fair-minded people to accept such a scenario at face value.
Not only are there a variety of unanswered questions about the presidential candidate’s erratic and alarming behavior, but several years of championing birtherism isn’t the sort of thing Donald Trump can just wipe away with a few hasty sentences – some of which were demonstrably untrue – at a surreal faux press conference.
By some quantitative measures, this was arguably the best week of Trump’s candidacy, but this morning was a fiasco that infuriated the press, offered fresh evidence of the Republican’s erratic temperament and poor judgment, and reminded center-left voters why Trump would make a frighteningly bad president.
I don’t know which strategic genius on Team Trump thought this would be a smart tactical move, but as observers take stock of the ridiculous spectacle, it’s clear this was a bad idea.