Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday said he believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States. The statement followed a chaotic 24 hours during which Trump’s campaign spokesman said the nominee believed Obama was a natural born citizen, but Trump himself refused to answer the question.
“President Obama was born in the United States, period,” Trump said on Friday. “Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump’s announcement was an abridged version of the one put out by his campaign spokesman late Thursday, which falsely claimed that Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, started the birther conspiracies.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” Trump said.
Trump’s statement, and that of his campaign, hope to put distance between Trump and the racist conspiracy theory that he’s fanned for nearly a decade.
His campaign said Thursday that it was Trump who “was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate.”
Trump on Friday said, “I finished it, you know what I mean.”
Trump’s claim about Clinton’s role in the conspiracy theory is patently false, and has been debunked over and over. Still, that didn’t stop Trump from repeating it on Friday. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said. “I finished it.”
Trump spoke at his new hotel in Washington D.C. from the Presidential Ballroom, a large room with a fair amount of gold trimming and chandeliers. A number of veterans stood behind him, as the event was officially meant to be focused on veterans’ issues.
Attendees were hesitant to discuss the issue of Obama’s birth ahead of the candidate’s speech. One woman from Maryland told The Huffington Post that it didn’t matter anymore because “[Obama] is so close to leaving office anyway.”
Others were willing to concede that Obama was born in Hawaii. But they blamed the president, not Trump, for making it an issue.
“This could have been eliminated from the get go if Barack Obama just put out his birth certificate,” said Sergio de la Pena, a Trump surrogate. “He waited until 2011. Why didn’t he just put this to bed?”
Pena called the current obsession on the birther issue, “pole vaulting over rat turds.”
But the high degree of national interest in the birther conspiracy can be attributed largely to Trump, who has energetically fueled the false conspiracy theory that Obama was born overseas since 2011.
Not surprisingly, Trump refuses to acknowledge what the birther conspiracy theories really are: racist ploys intended to delegitimize the nation’s first black president, but failed to do so.
Yet even as Trump sought to put the issue to rest in Washington, his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone told a Boston radio station Friday morning that Trump “has always had suspicions about [Obama’s birthplace], and to him it has never added up.
“I think the bottom line is he doesn’t know [and] he’s not sure,” Stone said of the Republican nominee. “That’s not the same as ‘I’m certain the president was born in Hawaii’ or ‘I’m certain that he was not.’”
Uncertainty, however, is at the heart of conspiracy theories, and it’s precisely what Trump spread for years, long after Obama released a long-form copy of his birth certificate in 2011.
As the grandaddy of the so-called “birther” conspiracy, Trump has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that Obama’s birth certificate is fake, that the president was actually born in Kenya, and even that a state health director in Hawaii was the victim of foul play in an attempted cover up.