When Trump appeared at his Washington D.C. hotel last week and said “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” no one should have taken him seriously. He clearly didn’t take the event seriously: The press conference announcing the supposed reversal was a 30-minute infomercial for Trump’s new hotel and his strengths as a commander in chief. The relevant portion lasted 30 seconds, came at the very end, and had nothing to do with anything that preceded it. It was a charade, both offensive and totally in keeping with Trump’s years of racist attacks on Obama’s legitimacy as president.
Trump’s statement left a lot of unanswered questions—like, “Do you regret leading a movement to delegitimize the president now that you realize it had no basis in truth?” and “What will happen to the $5 million you promised to charity?” On Wednesday, Toledo reporter Ben Garbarek asked Trump the most straightforward unanswered question: “Why did you change your mind?” Here’s what Trump said in response: “Well I just wanted to get on with, I wanted to get on with the campaign. A lot of people were asking me questions. We want to talk about jobs. We want to talk about the military. We want to talk about ISIS and get rid of ISIS. We want to talk about bringing jobs back to this area because you’ve been decimated so we just wanted to get back on the subject of jobs, military, taking care of our vets, etc.”
This is in keeping with Trump’s comments regarding birtherism from throughout the campaign. He hasn’t changed his mind, clearly, since he dodges even the most straightforward question: Instead, he just wants what he thinks of as a “distracting” issue to go away. Here, Trump is playing the same double game he’s played for most of the campaign: Winking to the racists in his base while doing the absolute bare minimum to convince the general public that they do not reflect his values. (Another worthwhile thought experiment is to ask if Trump would’ve undertaken so brazen a stunt if he had any high level black aides or advisers.)
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s this: Lester Holt will now almost certainly ask this exact same question to Trump during Monday night’s debate. What Trump says will be interesting. Right now, he’s clearly calling the shots—refusing to acknowledge past wrongs is a Trump hallmark. But his team might have other ideas, which means that we might finally get a real answer on Monday.