Former President Barack Obama found it "hard to take" future President Donald Trump seriously at first, even as Trump embraced birtherism, a debunked conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya and, therefore, an illegitimate president. In his new memoir on his time in office, A Promised Land, Obama admitted he did not expect the media to continue giving Trump a platform to spread the theory. He pointed out that the same reporters who laughed at his jokes about Trump during the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner continued bringing Trump on their shows.
In the new book, Obama noted that Trump was "apparently complimentary" of his presidency during his first two years, citing a 2009 Bloomberg interview in which Trump said he "would hire" Obama to fix the economy. "But maybe because I didn't watch much television, I found it hard to take him too seriously," Obama wrote, reports the Los Angeles Times. Obama noted he was surprised by the media's reaction to Trump's "sudden embrace of birtherism" and the "degree to which the line between news and entertainment had become so blurred, and the competition for ratings so fierce, that outlets eagerly lined up to offer a platform for a baseless claim."
At first, the younger White House staffers were pleased to see late-night television hosts constantly make fun of Trump's for his claims. The White House also treated birtherism as a joke until Obama noticed polls showing a growing number of Republicans believed he was not born in the U.S. His advisor, David Axelrod, also noted Trump was a leading Republican presidential candidate for the 2012 race, even though Trump did not announce plans to run.
"I chose not to share that particular piece of news with Michelle," Obama wrote, referring to First Lady Michelle Obama. "Just thinking about Trump and the symbiotic relationship he'd developed with the media made her mad." Obama later thought he nipped the whole situation in the bud when he made fun of Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner, with Trump sitting in the audience. The only one not laughing at the jokes was Trump.
"I couldn't begin to guess what went through his mind during the few minutes I spent ribbing him," Obama wrote. "What I knew was that he was a spectacle, and in the United States of America in 2011, that was a form of power. Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain purchase with each passing day. The same reporters who laughed at my jokes would continue to give him airtime. Their publishers would vie to have him sit at their tables." Obama noted that instead of being "ostracized" for sharing conspiracies, Trump "had never been bigger."