Vot­ers get a re­minder of an old bat­tle

Trump’s re­vival of birther dis­pute a self-in­flicted wound

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Cath­leen Decker

COLUM­BUS, Ohio — The 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has fol­lowed a pat­tern: In a con­test fea­tur­ing two widely dis­liked can­di­dates, each has risen in re­sponse to the other’s fail­ings and each has fallen due to self-in­flicted wounds.

Hil­lary Clin­ton rose in polls late this sum­mer af­ter Don­ald Trump’s undis­ci­plined at­tacks on a Gold Star fam­ily and other re­marks that in­sulted racial or eth­nic mi­nori­ties pushed away cen­trist vot­ers.

Trump more re­cently has risen on con­cerns about Clin­ton’s fam­ily foun­da­tion, her com­ment that half of his vot­ers be­longed in “a bas­ket of de­plorables” and her re­luc­tance to be fully trans­par­ent about her health.

Just when he might have sought to ce­ment and ex­tend his new, nar­row lead in some swing states, Trump on Fri- day delved into a topic the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee re­cently had tried to avoid — his long ef­fort to prove Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is not an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen. And he did so by mak­ing fresh and demon­stra­bly in­ac­cu­rate ac­cu­sa­tions against his Demo­cratic ri­val.

Trump’s prob­lem is that to gain a foothold on the Repub­li­can elec­torate he adopted a false claim — that Obama was not born in the United States and was, there­fore, an il­le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent. And he doggedly stuck to that as­ser­tion for five years.

But the ac­cu­sa­tion ap­peals to far fewer vot­ers than a can­di­date needs to win the White House. So Trump’s ad­vis­ers — if not the can­di­date him­self — have ea­gerly looked for a way he could climb down.

Noth­ing Trump said Fri­day will loosen the grasp of his fer­vent sup­port­ers, who in­di­cate they are less con­cerned about what Trump says than their be­lief that he’s speak­ing for them.

The vot­ers who haven’t yet cho­sen sides, how­ever, in­di­cate they want more — in­clud­ing de­tails about how he would gov­ern.

The im­pact of Trump’s lat­est state­ments can­not be mea­sured im­me­di­ately. But if his point was to ap­peal to those vot­ers by putting his birther cam­paign be­hind him, he will not be helped by the end­less loop of tele­vi­sion clips show­ing him cast­ing doubt on an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar pres­i­dent.

But for Trump’s own ac­tions, those vot­ers might have been hear­ing Fri­day about the eco­nomic plan he had re­leased the day be­fore or the child care pro­pos­als he made ear­lier this week. In­stead, they were re­liv­ing a fight that started five years ago.

Trump’s terse com­ments, and his er­ro­neous state­ments about Clin­ton, fol­lowed events in which he be­haved more like the old Trump who had wor­ried sub­ur­ban and less-par­ti­san vot­ers in whose hands the elec­tion in­creas­ingly seems to rest.

He re­fused to con­cede Obama’s birth­place in a Wash­ing­ton Post in­ter­view pub­lished Thurs­day. He claimed Fri­day morn­ing that he couldn’t tell Fox broad- caster Maria Bar­tiromo what he be­lieved be­cause “we have to keep the sus­pense go­ing”— as though stok­ing in­ter­est in a com­ing re­al­ity show.

Later Fri­day, at the close of an event in Wash­ing­ton that also served to pro­mote his new ho­tel, Trump falsely claimed that Clin­ton and her 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign “started the birther con­tro­versy” and that he had “fin­ished it.”

There is no ev­i­dence that Clin­ton or her cam­paign ever cir­cu­lated the idea that Obama had not been born in the U.S., al­though some in­di­vid­ual sup­port­ers of hers made that claim late in the 2008 pri­mary sea­son.

Trump then said that Obama “was born in the United States, pe­riod.”

He of­fered no apol­ogy for doubt­ing the pres­i­dent’s le­git­i­macy. He also did not ex­plain what had caused him to change his mind, since no new facts have emerged in the years he has been sug­gest­ing Obama was born in Africa — a claim he had re­peated in in­ter­views as re­cently as 2014, long af­ter Obama re­leased his birth The im­pact on vot­ers of Don­ald Trump’s lat­est state­ments can­not yet be mea­sured. cer­tifi­cate.

For both can­di­dates this year, a big part of the cam­paign has been about con­vinc­ing vot­ers to over­look — or for­give — their flaws.

For Clin­ton, that means get­ting vot­ers past fears about her trust­wor­thi­ness.

She has of­fered reams of pol­icy pro­pos­als, but since much of the cam­paign this year has fo­cused on Trump she has had a hard time get­ting out her own mes­sage.

In­stead, high-pro­file em­bar­rass­ments have put out a mes­sage she does not want to cir­cu­late.

In the case of her re­cent bout with pneu­mo­nia, her sup­port­ers worry that not dis­clos­ing an ill­ness un­til video sur­faced of a nearcol­lapse would fur­ther the per­cep­tion of dis­hon­esty.

In Trump’s case, his cam­paign has been about per­suad­ing vot­ers to dis­re­gard his show­man in­stincts and some­times-coarse man­ner and in­stead seize on him as a trans­for­ma­tive fig­ure ready to pun­ish the pur­vey­ors of pol­i­tics as usual.

But as a re­sult of his own ac­tions, the vot­ers he needs are now be­ing hit with the re­minders of Trump ad­vo­cat­ing a fringe be­lief about Obama.

JOE RAE­DLE/GETTY

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