President Barack Obama’s “most persistent distraction” when he launched his re-election campaign in April 2011 was not the economy, the Tea Party movement, the GOP presidential primary field, the unpopularity of Obamacare, or even the soon-to-be-launched mission to take out Osama bin laden.
No, the most pressing issue for the president was the fact that real estate mogul Donald Trump had been challenging him over his birth certificate, according to the new book Double Down: Game Change 2012.
“[T]he most persistent distraction Obama was facing personified by Donald Trump, the real estate billionaire and reality show ringmaster who was flirting with making a presidential run under the banner of birtherism–the crackpot conspiracy theory claiming that Obama was born in Kenya and thus was constitutionally ineligible to preside as commander in chief,” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann note in the opening chapter of the book.
While Obama–who was born in Hawaii–thought of the theory as “lunacy” and “simply mental,” in 2008 his campaign posted his short-form birth certificate online. But as 2011 rolled around, the theory, the authors note, “wouldn’t go away.”
“A recent New York Times poll had found that 45 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of voters overall believed he was foreign born,” Halperin and Heilemann wrote. “And with Trump serving as a human bullhorn, the faux controversy had escaped the confines of Fox News and conservative talk radio, reverberating in the mainstream media.”
George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about Trump’s crusade for his birth certificate twice in an interview the morning of April 14, 2011. “We’re not really worrying about conspiracy theories,” Obama said in response.
But that is not what this new book found; Halperin and Heilemann claim Obama literally spent that night in his Chicago home digging through old records to try to find some kind of proof he was born in Hawaii amid the belongings of his late mother, Ann Dunham.
After Obama made the fundraising rounds throughout Chicago, “he avoided mentioning Trump,” Halperin and Heilemann wrote, “yet the issue remained much on his mind.”
“What confounded him about the problem, beyond its absurdity, was that there was no ready solution,” they wrote. “Although Trump was braying for his original long-form birth certificate, officials in Obama’s home state were legally prohibited from releasing it on their own, and the president had no earthly idea where his family’s copy was.”
What Obama did try to do was “joke about the topic,” as he did during his final fundraiser that night at Chicago’s Navy Pier. “I grew up here in Chicago,” he said. “I wasn’t born here–I just want to be clear. I was born in Hawaii.”
Halperin and Heilemann note that Obama spent the night in the Chicago home that he, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia left behind for the White House in early 2009. When Obama walked through the door after 10 PM, he “stayed up even later” the authors noted, “intrigued by some old boxes that had belonged to his late mother, Ann Dunham.”
While Obama’s mother died seven years earlier, Obama still had not dug through and “sorted” all of her things. “Now, alone in his old house for just the third night since he’d become president, he started rummaging through the boxes, digging, digging, until suddenly he found it: a small, four-paneled paper booklet the world had never seen before,” Halperin and Heilemann wrote. “On the front was an ink drawing of Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital, in Honolulu. On the back was a picture of a Hawaiian queen. On one inside were his name, his mother’s name, and his date of birth; on the other were his infant footprints.”
Obama was so pleased that he found it, he bragged about the discovery to his friend Marty Nesbitt who visited him the next day. Nesbitt, one of Obama’s best friends who bonded with the president over sports over the years, came over for breakfast the next morning. “After chatting for a while at the kitchen table, Obama went upstairs and came back down, wearing a cat-who-ate-a-whole-flock-of-canaries grin, waving the booklet in the air, and then placing it in front of Nesbitt,” the authors wrote.
“Now that’s some funny shit,” Nesbitt said before he “burst out laughing.”
Obama was so proud he found the booklet that on the way to a scheduled interview with the Associated Press, he “pulled aside” adviser David Plouffe and press secretary Jay Carney “and eagerly showed them his discovery.”
Both Plouffe and Carney were unsure if that was, in fact, Obama’s long form birth certificate, but were hopeful that it could help them in fighting the birther conspiracy theories. As for Obama, Halperin and Heilemann noted, he “didn’t know what to think, but he flew back to Washington hoping that maybe, just maybe, he now had a stake to drive through the heart of birtherism, killing it once and for all–and slaying Trump in the bargain.”
Obama hoped this was his saving grace, as Trump’s charges had gotten so far under his skin it started consuming him. “Striding into a meeting with his senior advisers in the Oval Office the next Monday morning, he reached into his suit pocket and whipped out the booklet, infinitely pleased with himself,” Halperin and Heilemann wrote.