What’s the story behind Donald Trump’s recent flirtation with the birther movement?
Trump last made news with a surprise CPAC speech in February revealing his presidential aspirations, during which he incurred the wrath of the Paul fans in attendance by remarking that Ron Paul “has zero chance of getting elected” — while, of course, Donald Trump, on the other hand, would be a very serious and electable candidate. Perhaps looking to bolster his credibility even further, Trump decided to come out of the birther closet during a recent interview with Good Morning America, in which he remarked:
Everybody that gives any hint of being a birther — maybe — they label them as an idiot… the reason I have a little doubt — just a little … he grew up and nobody knew him. … nobody knows who he is until later in his life. The whole thing is very strange.
Careful observers of the aforementioned CPAC speech might have noted that even then, Trump was hinting at the topic of Obama’s mysterious origins:
Our current President came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further. The people that went to school with him never saw him; they don’t know who he is. Crazy.
Why is Trump playing to the birther movement? David Weigel offers an answer:
So why bring this up? If Trump is actually running for president, he’s doing it because polling indicates that at least 27 percent of Republicans have doubts about Obama’s origins. There are probably going to be more Republicans primary voters who have these doubts than think abortion should be illegal. So being a Reform Birther is saying you’re in solidarity with state legislators who are demanding birth certificates from the next presidential candidates.
To add to Weigel’s explanation, Trump’s birther move seems like a tone-deaf variation on Newt Gingrich’s strategy of building momentum by latching onto a fringy but highly motivated segment of the grassroots — in Gingrich’s case, the anti-Sharia law folks. Trump’s birther embrace seems like a more iffy strategy to me, but if it doesn’t work, he could always try moon-landing denial.