So did Donald Trump win? Or will President Obama manage to draw a line beneath the controversy about his citizenship, once and for all? The White House has just released a copy of Obama’s full birth certificate, showing, of course, that he was born in Hawaii and is eligible to be President of the United States.
Minutes later, Obama appeared at the White House podium, declaring the country just didn’t have time for such “silliness” – and it was all becoming a distraction from real issues like the economy.
The issue suddenly hit the headlines again after a poll showed that two-thirds of Republican voters believe that Obama was born outside the United States, or say they aren’t sure. The fact that it re-emerged at this precise moment was largely due to Donald Trump – who may or may not be considering a presidential bid. He’s repeatedly been quoted on the record, asking for that full birth certificate to be revealed.
The GOP’s party’s Presidential hopefuls have already been forced to distance themselves from the false claims by so-called “birthers” – who have been obsessed with challenging the President to produce his full birth certificate and prove where he was born.
There is nothing secret about the document: the official certification released by the authorities in Hawaii shows that Barack Obama was born in the state in 1961 – a fact recorded by local newspapers at the time.
So among the 2012 contenders – Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have completely rejected the “birther” idea – while Tim Pawlenty said “I’m not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate”.
But not every Republican leader was so unequivocal. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, says that although he does believe Obama is a US citizen – it’s not up to him to tell the American people what to think. Huh? Tea Party supporter Michelle Bachman actually had to be shown a copy of the Hawaii certificate by ABC’s George Stephanopolous before she admitted she would “take the president at his word”.
Yet tune into a right wing talk show and the claims persist – along with other accusations about Obama being a Muslim, educated at a Madrassa and so on. The Hawaii document, originally posted on the Democrats’ website during the 2008 campaign – has been dismissed as fake – even though the independent Factcheck.org website confirmed it is authentic. And a new book on the controversy – Jerome Corsis’s Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date.
Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has just vetoed one of the many so-called birther bills which are progressing in several states. Louisiana and Indiana are still debating the measures, which would require any presidential candidate to provide proof of their American citizenship in order to be included on that state’s ballot.
It has already proved remarkably fruitful for Democrats, who have siezed on the Donald Trump pronouncements to raise funds from their outraged supporters. But isn’t it truly astonishing in this day and age that the citizenship of the President of the United States is an issue at all – let alone one that seems to have gained almost mainstream currency? As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, two years ago: “You couldn’t sell this script in Hollywood”.
Moments after the brith certificate was published today, Trump emerged in New hampshire, taking full credit for the disclosure – and insisting he’s proud of himself. “I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish”, he said, barely able to restrain his glee. But will this really draw a line under the whole affair, as the White House hopes – and consign the doubters to the furthest conspiracy-theory extremes? In his statement today, Obama urged the media to ignore the “sideshows and carnival barkers”: with wars in Afghanistan and Libya, oil prices soaring and a huge debate over the deficit, he wants to show the American people that he’s the one in charge – and the one taking the country’s problems seriously.
Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.