In March, after winning primary elections in Michigan and Mississippi, Donald Trump delivered a speech that was far from a traditional victory address. It was more of an infomercial for Trump-branded products, including Trump-stamped wine, bottled water, golf courses and steaks. He was using his political campaign as an advertising platform for his personal business ventures.
In the months since then, reporters have looked into Trump’s other business dealings, including a surprising amount of campaign money being spent on Trump-branded enterprises. Their reports have raised even more questions about whether Trump, if elected president, would be able to separate his political operation from his personal financial interests.
Trump’s actions on Friday should put to rest any such questions. He had announced he would hold a press conference to make a major announcement regarding his position about whether or not President Obama was born in the United States. Trump has long been among the most prominent individuals stoking “birther” conspiracy theories by questioning Obama’s origins and eligibility for the presidency, including a 2011 stunt in which he made a show of sending investigators to Hawaii to look for the president’s birth certificate. “You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. Right now, I have real doubts,” Trump said at the time.
But Trump’s press conference on Friday was not a press conference at all. Instead, it was another extended infomercial for his newly opened hotel in Washington, D.C., where the event was held. Trump previewed his remarks by tweeting that he would be “going to the brand new Trump International, Hotel D.C.” and opened by touting its grandiosity. “I really believe, I said this would be the best hotel in Washington,” he said, before musing that it might even be the greatest hotel in the entire world.
After that, however, Trump barely spoke at the event. Instead, he turned the floor over to a group of decorated veterans who touted Trump’s presidency. All of this, of course, was broadcast live on cable networks. Trump used the birther controversy to earn himself a half an hour of free advertising for his hotel and his campaign.
Only at the very end did Trump turn to his position on Obama’s place of birth. During the 2008 campaign, he said, Hillary Clinton “started the birther controversy. I finished it.” He now said he believes that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”
Trump’s claim that Clinton started birtherism is an easily refutable lie. Some of Clinton’s supporters during the 2008 primary campaign did indulge in birther conspiracies, but not the campaign itself. Trump, in contrast, spent years loudly questioning Obama’s origins and eligibility for the presidency even after the matter was definitively settled.
His campaign released a statement Thursday night setting up Friday’s remarks, saying that “in 2011, Mr. Trump was finally about to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate.” Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, but his certificate of live birth had been released in 2008. In any case, it’s a brazen rewriting of history for Trump’s campaign to claim that the issue was settled for Trump after 2011. He continued — repeatedly — to tweet conspiratorial skepticism about Obama’s birthplace as late as 2014, and told CNN in July of this year that he would love to continue talking about the issue, but that he doesn’t because it would be a distraction.
Trump himself, not Clinton, was — and remains — the vector for birther bluster.
Trump, in other words, has merely traded one birther conspiracy theory for another.
Trump on Friday showed an even clearer version of what he has shown so often throughout his campaign: that he is a shameless liar, a conspiracy theorist and a huckster, and that he sees no distinction between his political efforts and his personal business dealings. He is unable or unwilling to separate rumor from reality, business bluster from political operations, personal dealings from national affairs. For Trump, there is no meaningful dividing line.
Trump is a crony capitalist nightmare, and Friday’s event was another frightening reminder of his warped approach to the world.
Peter Suderman is managing editor at Reason.com, where this was posted.
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