Donald Trump made it into the first rank of national politics by stoking the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. But now this history has become inconvenient, as President Obama is quite popular and Hillary Clinton has been hammering him on the issue. So at a bizarre event at his recently-finished hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump tried to put the birther issue behind him on Friday — by duping the media and lying that Hillary Clinton was responsible for the whole story in the first place. It was a 100 percent snow job.
The event was classic Trump. He began by tricking cable news networks into giving live coverage to what amounted to an extended advertisement of his new hotel — even when dealing with a sensitive campaign issue he can't resist a possibility to enrich himself. That was followed by lavish praise of Trump from a slew of military veterans who are supporting him.
Finally, after about half an hour of this, he said the following:
Hillary Clinton, her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it — I finished it. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again. [Donald Trump]
That was the entirety of his statement. It took about 40 seconds. Then he dashed off the stage without taking any questions, effectively hiding behind the mass of veterans he brought with him.
There is a tremendous density of lying in the above statement, so let's go through it piece by piece.
First of all, Clinton did not remotely start the birther movement. Birtherism is a hardcore conspiracy theory that cropped up during the 2008 Democratic primary in the right-wing fever swamps. Nutty reactionaries, looking for some reason to disqualify the future first black president of the United States, glommed onto the fact that his father was Kenyan and he had lived overseas as a child, and derped themselves into believing he wasn't actually born in Hawaii. From there it passed to higher-profile fringe figures like Orly Taitz and Jerome Corsi, and from there into the Republican bloodstream.
(The logic of the conspiracy doesn't even make sense, since Obama's mother was an American citizen, thus granting him citizenship by blood — but conspiracy hounds are not known for their reason.)
Now, during the 2008 campaign, Clinton's campaign did briefly play footsie with the idea that Obama was some sort of foreigner. When photos of Obama in traditional Somali garb cropped up, one campaign surrogate went so far as to say that he should not be ashamed to appear in "his native clothing, in the clothing of his country." But they caught terrific flak for it, and quickly apologized. Clinton never once said or implied that Obama was not a citizen, or demanded to see his birth certificate, or argued he was not really president — the basic premises of birtherism.
Donald Trump did all those things, repeatedly.
Starting in 2011, when he was speculating about a presidential run, Trump became by far the highest-profile birther in the country. He questioned the authenticity of the birth certificate Obama released in 2008, said that the real one might show Obama was a Muslim, and said he sent a team of investigators to Hawaii to investigate the matter. It garnered Trump enormous media attention — at one point a poll showed him in first place for the 2012 Republican nomination.
In other words, pandering to right-wing nutcase conspiracies is quite simply what got Trump into serious politics. He would not be the nominee today if it weren't for his birther history.
All this prompted Obama to release his "long-form" birth certificate in 2011 in an attempt to shut Trump up, but it didn't stop him. Trump continued to post birther conspiracies on Twitter up through September of 2014. As recently as this week he refused to disavow the conspiracy.
Again: Birtherism is a racist smear. (As Bernie Sanders aptly notes, nobody ever asked him for his birth certificate, despite the fact that his father was born in Poland.) Therefore, Trump disavowing the substance of the conspiracy without acknowledging fault and blaming the whole thing on Clinton is a complete snow job. It does not remotely account for the harm he has done — indeed, it was probably meant to be seen by his racist crackpot supporters as a bad faith sop to the media.
Trump is still a racist conspiracy nut, and he always will be.