So, he lied even as he conceded, sort of, the point.
Donald Trump tried Friday morning to leave behind his longstanding embrace of the discredited assertion that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore cannot legally be president. But Trump’s brief statement, at a purported press conference in Washington where he refused to take questions from reporters, mainly recycled false assertions he has made in the past, notably that Hillary Clinton was the originator of the so-called “birther” allegation and that it was Trump himself who had previously put it to rest.
Trump’s mouth did speak the words on Friday, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” But that sound bite only raises more questions, including the one shouted by an unidentifiable male reporter as Trump left the podium: “Why did it take so long?”
Trump did not apologize to the president or take any responsibility for his years of championing—and politically benefiting from—a claim that was exhaustively investigated and repeatedly disproved. The notion that Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was born outside the United States and thus was ineligible to be president became an article of faith among the nativist right during Obama’s first term. Trump repeatedly stoked such conspiracy thinking, and the resulting grassroots enthusiasm helped propel his presidential campaign. Over time, the allegation, which Trump never disavowed, came to permeate the broader Republican electorate. Going into the November elections, a staggering 72 percent of Republicans, nearly three in four, have doubts that Obama was born in the United States, according to a poll released in August by NBC News.
The question now is whether Trump’s statement Friday will indeed put the birther controversy behind him. The Clinton campaign insists that it shouldn’t. Calling for Trump to apologize to Obama, the campaign said, “Trump has spent years peddling a racist conspiracy aimed at undermining the first African-American president. He can’t just take it back.”