Trump’s Alleged Recruitment by Russia Coincides With His Re-Launch of the Birther Movement

The very first document of the Steele dossier dated June 20, 2016 begins with this:

…the Russian authorities had been cultivating and supporting U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for at least 5 years.

If true, that would put the beginning of this relationship between Trump and Putin at sometime just prior to June 2011. What was the president-elect doing at that time? Those of us with memories that go back farther than the last 24-hour news cycle might remember.

In the birther movement, Mr. Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president. He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.

“The appeal of the birther issue was, ‘I’m going to take this guy on, and I’m going to beat him,’” said Sam Nunberg, who was one of Mr. Trump’s advisers during that period but was fired from his current campaign. “It was a great niche and wedge issue.”

And starting in March 2011, when he first began to test the idea that a reality television star with no political experience could mount a campaign for the presidency, Mr. Trump could not stop talking about it.

It all started on March 23, 2011 when Trump appeared on The View and said this:

“I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate,” Trump said on ABC’s “The View.” “There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.”…

“If you go back to my first grade, my kindergarten, people remember me. Nobody from those early years remembers him,” Trump said. “If you’re going to be president of the United States, it says very profoundly you have to be born in this country.”

That kicked off a more than three year attempt by Donald Trump to challenge the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. As many have documented, it continued long after the President released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011.

Most of us are aware that Trump launched his position on the stage of national politics by reigniting the whole birther movement, which had waned after it initially arose during and immediately after the 2008 election. It just so happens that the timing of that coincides with the allegations of his recruitment and cultivation by Russian operatives.

As Ashley Parker and Steve Eder note, the whole spectacle worked pretty well.

The more Mr. Trump questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Obama’s presidency, the better he performed in the early polls of the 2012 Republican field, springing from fifth place to a virtual tie for first.

Four years later, it was that base on which Trump built his candidacy.

When the president-elect finally admitted that he had been lying about all this in September 2016, it is interesting to note how his admission came with a whole caveat of additional lies – very similar to what he did when he finally admitted last week that Russia had been behind the hacking of campaigns and individuals involved in the election.

On the birther issue, Trump blamed the 2008 Clinton campaign for starting the whole birther question (a lie) and then credited himself with forcing the issue so that the President had to release his long-form certificate.

On Russian hacking, he coupled his admission that it was Russia with an attempt to blame the DNC for being the victim of hacking, a lie that the RNC hadn’t been hacked, and a pat on the back to Reince Priebus and himself for preventing that from happening.

It is important to remember that, prior to re-launching the whole birther movement, Donald Trump had commented on politics but never indicated he was actually interested in running for office himself. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that the allegations of his recruitment by Russian operatives coincides with the spectacle he created that put him in the spotlight to rally the base of the Republican Party. Or perhaps not.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.