All eyes were on Donald Trump’s new Washington, DC hotel this morning, where the Republican nominee promised to deliver a “major statement” about his ongoing uncertainty about President Obama’s birthplace.
I am now going to the brand new Trump International, Hotel D.C. for a major statement.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2016
Cable news cameras flocked to Pennsylvania Avenue for the event Trump’s campaign billed as a “press conference.” Reporters anticipated asking him about how and when he came to the conclusion that Obama was in fact born in the United States, despite five years of being the most vocal spokesperson for the conspiracy.
But things did not go according to plan.
First, the event started more than an hour late. During that time, most of the major networks showed an empty podium branded with Trump’s new hotel logo and reporters had a chance to check out the amenities.
Even the urinals at Trumps hotel have gold trimming pic.twitter.com/XFMJDg8hA8
— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 16, 2016
When the event finally began, Trump’s first comments were about the “nice” hotel that he said is both “under budget and ahead of schedule.”
So if there's a question if Trump could separate his business ties if he becomes president, we got our answer, right?
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) September 16, 2016
All of the major networks’ cameras were rolling, ready to show the much-anticipated event interrupted.
But for roughly 30 minutes, Trump did not mention Obama’s birthplace. Instead, he paraded out Medal of Honor winners and war heroes who one after another endorsed the real estate mogul in front of millions of viewers.
Trump's campaign hyped up change on birther issue. And now that TV networks carrying it live, we've had 20 mins of veterans endorsing Trump
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) September 16, 2016
When Trump finally took the podium to address Obama’s citizenship, the moment was brief. He addressed the birther movement in just 30 seconds, which was plenty of time for him to perpetuate the lie that Hillary Clinton started the conspiracy.
“Hillary Clinton, in her campaign of 2008, started the birther controversy,” he said. “I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”
And with that (and a promise to “make America great again”), Trump left the stage.
Immediately, reporters in the audience stood up on their chairs and yelled “Please take questions!” according to NBC’s Katy Tur. Other cable news commentators were equally incensed.
JOHN KING: “We just got played. We just got played. And voters can decide what to make of that."
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) September 16, 2016
“It’s hard to imagine this is anything other than a political rickroll,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said.
“It was very clever, on one level,” he continued. “On another level, it speaks to the integrity of the Trump campaign.”
And because Trump is nothing if not on-brand, he concluded Friday’s spectacle by taking reporters on a tour of his new hotel. He did not take any questions.