Trump revives a lie, by claiming to disown it

September 17, 2016 10:04 pm | Updated November 01, 2016 07:21 pm IST - Washington

Trump perhaps believes that keeping a controversy around the President’s personality alive will help him electorally.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Friday the debate on President Barack Obama’s place of birth was closed, but it appears his intent was to trigger a fresh round of diatribe around an eight-year old lie.

American politics needs a lexicon of its own to debate the unique and often strange questions it generates and the word ‘birther’ originated with attempts by the conservatives to question Mr. Obama’s eligibility to be President. Only citizens born in America are eligible to be elected President. ‘Birthers’ are those who believe that Mr. Obama was not born in the U.S. and, hence, ineligible. The conspiracy theory was floated on shady web platforms but it got its national prominence after Mr. Trump, who was then only a real estate agent, started questioning Mr. Obama’s place of birth on national television. By then, Mr. Obama was President.

Mr. Trump on Friday said that it was Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign in 2008 that raked up the birther controversy, a claim fact-checking groups have proven to be untrue. “[T]here’s no evidence that Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with bogus claims that Obama wasn’t born in the United States,” FactCheck.Org wrote.

Origins of the ‘birthers’

The group, however, cites that it was Ms. Clinton’s supporters who advanced this theory first. That is a disputed point, as some other writers have dug out conservative web chatter predating an e-mail circulated by Clinton supporters. In November 2008, FactCheck.Org wrote: “This claim was first advanced by die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters as her campaign for the party’s nomination faded, and has enjoyed a revival among John McCain’s partisans as he fell substantially behind Obama in public opinion polls. There has never been anything but rumour and speculation to support such a claim, and zero hard evidence.”

A day before he purportedly backtracked on his allegation, Mr. Trump kept the suspense alive. He said he would talk about it at an appropriate time and then promised to make an “importance announcement” on Friday. He just made a 30-second announcement that the issue is over, but did not explain his change of mind and refused to take questions. Further, by accusing Ms. Clinton of raising the issue, Mr. Trump revived the lie, even while professing to disown it.

According to a survey in June/July this year, 72 per cent Republicans still doubt whether Mr. Obama was born in America. Mr. Trump has questioned his faith, and even suggested more than once that he may be a closet Muslim.

Mr. Trump perhaps believes that keeping a controversy around the President’s personality alive will help him electorally.

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