Serious Question: Why Did The ‘Birther’ Issue Reemerge?

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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After a couple weeks of playing offense, Donald Trump ended last week with an unsatisfying press conference where he finally conceded that President Obama was born in the U.S.A.

The bigger question for me, at least, was this: Why were we suddenly talking about the birther issue?

Sure, Trump’s contribution to this conspiracy theory is problematic; it’s one of the many reasons I long ago decided I couldn’t support him. But that’s also old news. It’s baked in the cake. After a week of talking about Hillary Clinton’s comments about Trump’s “deplorables” and Clinton’s health issues, why were we now, of all things, talking about this issue?

To be sure, Trump has long had a penchant for stepping on narratives that might actually hurt Clinton—and grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. But this time felt different. Trump didn’t proactively inject the birther issue into the debate. He didn’t tweet something stupid about the “birther” issue, thus changing the subject from Clinton. Instead, the narrative was changed by virtue of the media resurrecting this dormant topic.

In case you weren’t keeping track, on September 9, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway about it. “[Trump] believes President Obama was born here,” she said. “He was born in Hawaii,” she continued. This was news to all of us, and it created a permission structure for Trump to (once again) be asked about the issue. During an interview on September 14 (which published on September 15), Trump told the Washington Post’s Bob Costa, “I’ll answer that question at the right time…I just don’t want to answer it yet.”

He should have answered it then and there. Still, to me, the resurgence of this issue felt like a non sequitur. It felt like the media was trying to change the subject from Clinton’s vulnerabilities to stupid theories that Trump had seemingly walked away from. It felt like this was a manufactured story. It felt like it was the resurrection of a story that came about at the exact same time Clinton’s message wasn’t resonating with the “Obama coalition.” I think it felt like that for a reason.

Think of it this way: Trump’s past controversial statements are stored in an “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” container. With Clinton literally and figuratively collapsing, it was time to break the glass.