Donald Trump pushes own campaign into damage control by refusing - still - to say President Obama was born in America

A revived birther furore would wreck Trump's outreach to blacks and Hispanics

David Usborne
New York
Friday 16 September 2016 04:59 BST
Donald Trump addressed the Economic Club of New York on Thursday
Donald Trump addressed the Economic Club of New York on Thursday (AP)

The campaign for the White House has descended once more into the realms of the surreal with Donald Trump reigniting his old game of casting doubt on whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States by refusing to answer a question about it in a newspaper interview.

Asked during an interview with The Washington Post whether he was ready to finally say that he accepts that Hawaii was the birthplace of President Obama, Mr Trump demurred. “I’ll answer that question at the right time,” he said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”

It was a non-answer that triggered an instant whirlwind on the campaign trail, beginning with Hillary Clinton giving him a scalding rebuke at an event for Hispanic leaders in Washington calling Mr Trump’s language “ugliness” and “bigotry”.

Shortly afterwards the Trump campaign rushed into damage control issuing a statement first asserting that the entire issue of where Mr Obama had been born had been raised by Ms Clinton in the first place when she was running against him in the 2008 primaries and then stating that “Mr Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States”.

But even that statement, which argued that Mr Trump had done a “great service” to the country and to Mr Obama himself by “compelling” him to release his full-form birth certificate in 2011, cannot be taken as the end of the matter since it was signed not by the candidate but by a spokesman.

That did not go unnoticed for the simple reason that in the interview with the Post, Mr Trump also played coy when asked about recent remarks by his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway saying that he had had in fact come to the conclusion that Mr Obama had been born in the US.

“It’s OK,” he responded. “She’s allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on other things.”

On Friday morning, there was speculation that Mr Trump would use a visit to a new hotel bearing his name in Washington DC finally to announce his acceptance of Mr Obama as a true American - a statement that would finally bring him in line with his own campaign.

Yet Thursday night’s developments were threatening to develop into a new fiasco for Mr Trump that could become a dangerous distraction at a time when there had been signs of his campaign both become more focused and disciplined and of new poll movement in his favour.

Not only was Mr Trump widely ridiculed for becoming the leader of the so-called “birther movement” before it petered out in 2011, it also was seen by many black and Hispanic voters as nothing short of racist in nature. For that now to be revived today as he struggles to reach out to both those groups could be a disaster.

Which explains why Ms Clinton saw an opening, after a rocky few days of her own, and seized on it on Thursday night as evidence that however much Mr Trump might try to change his spots as Election Day approaches, he will never be able to.

“He was asked one more time where was President Obama born and he still wouldn't say Hawaii. He still wouldn't say America,“ Ms Clinton said. ”This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?“

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