Donald Trump 'would love to' talk about birtherism. Here's why he doesn't

Rewinding the tape on 1 year of Trump
Rewinding the tape on 1 year of Trump

The front page of the New York Times on Sunday recounted Donald Trump's 2011 role in mainstreaming "birtherism" -- the discredited idea that President Obama was born outside the United States.

Trump, who is rarely reluctant to weigh in when reporters write about him, uncharacteristically declined to comment to the Times.

Indeed, these days he typically doesn't talk about Obama's birthplace.

But in a recent interview with CNN, he said "I would love to" talk about the subject.

Trump suggested the reason why he doesn't engage in "birther" speculation anymore is because it gets too much attention, crowding out other issues.

"I don't talk about it. You know why I don't talk about it? Because once I talk about it, that's all they want to write about. So I don't ever talk about it," he told CNN in the June 14 interview.

"And I would love to," he continued. "But if I do talk about it, then what happens, is, that takes up -- then we're not talking about the horrible economy. We're not talking about real unemployment in this country, which is close to 20%, when you add all the people that have given up looking for jobs. We're not talking about ISIS. We're not talking about the things we have to talk about. So when people ask me, I just say, 'I don't talk about that anymore.'"

The CNN interview was scheduled to discuss Trump's ban against reporters from The Washington Post. Trump was furious about a Post online headline that said "Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting."

The headline was triggered by a conspiratorial comment that Trump had made on Fox News in the wake of the shooting.

"Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. ... There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on," Trump said.

Some critics interpreted Trump's rhetoric about the Orlando shooting to be edging close to his 2011 embrace of the "birther" movement.

Believers in "birtherism" falsely say that Obama is not a "natural-born citizen" and thus not eligible to be president.

The conspiracy theory took root during the presidential election race in 2008, but it gained wider attention when Trump repeatedly talked about it in 2011.

Before Trump came along, the people "pushing these conspiracy theories were very discredited figures the press wouldn't take seriously," former White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" in May.

Trump "used his huge megaphone" to give the theory more attention, Pfeiffer said.

At one point Trump -- who was flirting with a presidential bid at the time -- even pledged $5 million to charity if Obama would present a birth certificate.

In fact, Obama had done so years earlier, during his first presidential campaign. But as Trump banged the birther drum, the White House decided to obtain and release a second document, known as the long-form birth certificate, in April 2011.

On the day it was released, Obama said, "I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital."

That same month, Obama also mocked Trump from the podium of the White House Correspondents Association dinner, which Trump was attending. Pfeiffer said the strategy was to "ridicule" Trump.

Related: How Obama "ridiculed" Trump's birther questions

"Almost as quickly as it began, the controversy subsided," Sunday's New York Times story said.

The Times story offered another possible reason Trump stopped talking about the issue: "Executives at NBC," which aired Trump's reality show "The Apprentice," "privately called on him to tone down his remarks, fearing he would hurt ratings at a time when more than a million African-Americans tuned in every Thursday night." The newspaper cited "a former executive with knowledge of the discussions."

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