But many in the Republican political class remain unimpressed. More than one GOP operative interviewed for this story referred to Trump as a “nut.” Just about all who discussed the birth certificate issue said the matter is unlikely to reach beyond the party’s “black helicopter” crowd, voters who they said are unlikely to accept Obama’s birth certificate as legitimate documentation.
“I’m not sure how it would play in a primary,” a D.C.-based Republican strategist said. “Unless you take Donald Trump seriously as a candidate, which I do not. I take his involvement in Wrestlemania more seriously than his involvement in politics.”
“It is absurd and embarrassing that we have such a vacuum of substance that a carnival barker like Trump can actually elevate this issue to the level that the president finally had to confront it,” added Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based GOP consultant who has advised Golden State Republicans.
But the issue has haunted Obama nonetheless. To serve as president, an individual is required by the Constitution to be at least 35 years old and be a citizen born on U.S. soil.
The president was born and raised in Hawaii by his American-born mother and maternal grandparents. He briefly lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia as a young boy. After college and law school, he ended up in Chicago, serving in the Illinois Legislature and the Senate before winning the White House.
A fringe minority on the far right of the political spectrum has questioned whether Obama, whose father was a native of Kenya, was born in Hawaii. This small group, many of whom also questioned Obama’s religion, has continued to believe that the president is foreign-born.
Viral emails first spread the false rumor, forcing the Obama campaign in 2008 to release the short version of his birth certificate and numerous fact-checking entities to declare he was, indeed, a citizen.
Officials in Hawaii have been bombarded with requests to view the certificate, costing taxpayer dollars and frustrating both parties.
That “birther” viewpoint appeared to gain mainstream traction in recent weeks, according to public opinion polls, as Trump loudly questioned whether Obama was born here. A USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday showed that only 38 percent of Americans thought the president was definitely born in the U.S.; 24 percent said he probably or definitely was not.
Obama had repeatedly declined to release the long-form version of his birth certificate. But on Wednesday morning, Obama went before reporters to reveal it even as he described the issue as a “silly” distraction from the real problems facing the country. He suggested the issue was cooked up by dishonest “carnival barkers.” Republican strategists focused on the 2012 elections tend to agree, among them Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
“Unfortunately [Obama’s] campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority — our economy,” Priebus said in a statement following the president’s remarks.
Some praised Obama for deftly putting the issue to bed in a way that diminished Trump and Republicans generally.
“I think it was a clever tactic by the White House,” Stutzman said. “Releasing the certificate draws sympathy to the president from swing voters and further defines elements of the GOP as, frankly, wacky.”