September 22, 2017



In the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, this shift toward vulgarity and bluster accelerated. But perhaps the defining moment occurred on March 23, 2011, when Trump made an appearance on The View. Few at the time thought he had a real interest in--or shot at--the presidency. But polls indicated he was popular, and he was flirting with the idea. Wearing his trademark dumpy blue suit and long red tie, the New York real estate mogul launched into what today feels like a typical stump speech. "We're not going to be a great country for long if we keep going the way we're going right now," he said. Trump was friendly and cordial, cracking jokes and holding Whoopi Goldberg's hand. But when the conversation turned to Obama, it grew heated. "Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?" Trump whined. "If you're going to be the president of the United have to be born in this country.

"The birther canard--that Obama was born in Kenya or somewhere abroad--didn't start with Trump. (And despite his false claims, it didn't start with Hillary Clinton either.) But perhaps more than any other figure, Trump proliferated birtherism, took the lie from the lunatic fringes of the internet and brought it to the mainstream. After his appearance on The View, he went further, implying to Laura Ingraham, the conservative commentator, that the president might secretly be a Muslim. After Obama produced his birth certificate in April 2011, Trump briefly acknowledged his legitimacy, then quickly seemed to recant, saying that "a lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate." In doing so, he soaked up some much-desired publicity, which arguably helped him launch his 2016 campaign.

Not everyone on the right bought into birtherism. Some, such as talk show host Michael Medved, slammed the conspiracy theory. "Birtherism, he said, "makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled and not suitable for civilized company.

"But many leading Republicans either stayed silent or refused to denounce such an outrageous lie. One reason for their reluctance: A Public Policy Poll in February 2011 found that birthers had become a majority among likely Republican primary voters--51 percent said they did not think Barack Obama was born in the United States.  Birtherism was not a fringe idea in the GOP. The poll also suggested, as Steve Benen noted in Washington Monthly, that "candidates hoping to run sane campaigns will be at a disadvantage in the coming months." Republican voters who doubted Obama's legitimacy tended to gravitate to candidates like Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee (all of whom would play key roles in Trump's 2016 campaign).

In private, conservatives who knew better justified their return to the dark fringes on the grounds that it fired up the base and antagonized liberals. Or as Palin put it so memorably in 2016, "It's fun to see the splodey heads keep sploding." The result was a compulsion to defend anyone attacked by the left, no matter how reckless, extreme or bizarre. If liberals hated something, the argument went, then it must be wonderful and worthy of aggressive defense. So conservatives embraced the likes of Christine O'Donnell, a failed Senate candidate who ran a curious ad denying rumors she was secretly a witch. They defended Todd Akin, a former Missouri congressman who said female victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant. We treated these extremists and crackpots like your obnoxious uncle at Thanksgiving: We ignored them, feeling we could contain them or at least control their lunacy.

We were naive. By failing to push back against the racist birther-conspiracy theory--among other harmful, batty ideas--conservatives failed a moral and intellectual test with significant implications for the future.

We failed it badly.

While core of his support is fellow Nativists and Islamophobes, the jet fuel was hatred of the very idea of a black president.

Posted by at September 22, 2017 7:22 AM