Speed Reads

Truth Squad

No, Hillary Clinton did not start the 'birther' movement

On Thursday, once again, Donald Trump declined several times to concede that President Obama was born in the United States. "I'll answer that question at the right time," he told The Washington Post. "I just don't want to answer it yet." In a follow-up statement, Trump's campaign said "Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States," and tried to portray Trump's longtime birtherism as a noble attempt to "bring this ugly incident to its conclusion," arguing that "Hillary Clinton's campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama" but unlike Trump, "Hillary Clinton was too weak to get an answer." This isn't the first time Trump has blamed his birtherism on Clinton.

Trump himself repeated that assertion to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on May 4, saying Clinton "started the 'birther' movement," and his spokeswomen and media emissaries have been dutifully repeating the line this week. It doesn't always go well:

Because it is not true. Lots of journalists have dug into the origins of the birther conspiracy, and none have been able to tie it to Clinton or her campaign. The Clinton-Obama primary battle did get nasty in 2008, and Clinton strategist Mark Penn did suggest in 2007 that Clinton play up Obama's "lack of American roots” but he never questioned Obama's birthplace or birth certificate. Some diehard Clinton supporters, on the other hand, did send around an anonymous email questioning Obama's birthplace as her campaign faded, and John Avlon traces formal birtherism to a Clinton bitter-ender in Texas named Linda Starr, who pushed the conspiracy after Clinton had conceded and urged her supporters to back Obama.

"It's an interesting bit of history that the birther movement appears to have begun with Democrats supporting Clinton and opposing Obama," says Jon Greenberg at PolitiFact, which rated the allegation "False." But "there is no record that Clinton herself or anyone within her campaign ever advanced the charge that Obama was not born in the United States." FactCheck.org also rated it false, and you can read more details there, or in the video it produced with CNN's Jake Tapper.

It seems if you're Donald Trump, especially, it may not be a good policy to ascribe the actions of supporters to the candidate they support.