Is Donald Trump a closet Obama supporter? That's the only logical conclusion to draw from the Donald's recent foray into presidential politics. If he keeps up his kooky bid for the GOP nomination, he'll damage the party and its chances to win the White House in 2012. And if he's seriously considering running as an Independent -- as he's hinted he would if he fails to win the Republican nomination -- he virtually guarantees Barack Obama's re-election.
Trump may be entertaining -- millions of fans of his reality television shows seem to think so, though the appeal eludes me. But it's one thing for Trump to play rich bully for ratings and another to use his celebrity status to peddle wacky conspiracy theories that harm political discourse.
Trump single-handedly has given the "birther" issue new legs. In an advertisement this week in USA Today, Trump asks Obama "to be transparent with the American people and provide his birth certificate for forensic review."
"Birthers" -- and Trump seems to have joined their ranks -- claim that Obama is not eligible to be president because he isn't a "natural born citizen" as required by Article II of the Constitution. They base their theories on the false charge that Obama has never produced a valid copy of his birth certificate and therefore must be hiding something, namely that he was born someplace other than Hawaii, as he maintains.
During the 2008 election, people sometimes sent me newspaper articles that "proved" Obama was born in Kenya. When I'd point out the fake dateline or incorrect style headings attributed to the Associated Press or other newswires and numerous misspellings and grammatical errors that even a high school editor would have caught, they'd just send me more "evidence." I soon found that there's no convincing people whose ideas are based on hatred, not facts.
The facts are these: Obama produced a valid copy of his Hawaiian certificate of live birth before the 2008 election. The document--with its proper, three-dimensional seal and attestation by the state registrar that it is "a true copy and abstract of the records on file" clearly visible -- is readily available for viewing online at FactCheck.org, among other places.
Certificate No. 151 1961-010641 issued by "The Department of Health, Hawaii, USA" says that a male child named Barack Hussein Obama II was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, at 7:24 p.m. The mother's maiden name, Stanley Ann Dunham, and race, Caucasian, are listed; as are the father's name, Barack Hussein Obama, and race, African. The paper on which the document is printed -- again easily discernible online -- is the type of special watermarked government stock that makes forgery difficult.
So why does Trump persist in spreading the false allegation that the president has never produced a valid copy of his birth certificate? It's hard to believe that a man smart enough to have accumulated an estimated $3 billion in wealth could be dumb enough to fall prey to the birthers' lies. He's doing it for the same reason he does most things -- to draw attention to himself.
In the world of reality television, there may be no such thing as bad publicity. But politics follows different rules. Trump leads the pack of mostly little-known Republican candidates in some polls. But his standing reflects name recognition, not political viability. And his chicanery is managing to suck all the oxygen out of the room for serious Republican candidates -- the best of whom have held elective office, balanced state budgets, run businesses that didn't end up in Chapter 11, and whose personal lives haven't been perpetual fodder for the tabloids.
As any smart businessperson knows, brand integrity is crucial. If you sully the brand, no one will buy what you're selling. And right now, Donald Trump is ruining the Republican brand. If he truly believes we need a new president in 2012, he'll bow out early and leave the field to those who'll run on serious ideas and real solutions, not thoroughly discredited conspiracy theories.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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