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Billionaire Donald Trump has defied conventional wisdom.

Many had concluded he would be a blip on the campaign radar, quickly disappearing from the GOP presidential contest. Apparently, the GOP establishment and the political chattering class have not correctly read the tea leaves.

Because Trump, unlike some of his Republican counterparts, has carved out a faithful niche in the GOP electorate that has him leading in the polls. That niche appears to be rooted in voters who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, is a closet Muslim and should have deported immigrant mothers and children.

In September, liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., released some numbers about the roots of Trump’s support that could explain his lead but hardly merited any serious coverage in the mainstream media. According to the poll, 66 percent of Trump supporters believe Obama is a Muslim compared with 12 percent who say he is a Christian, and 61 percent believe Obama was not born in the United States, compared with 21 percent who think the opposite.

The poll also found that a majority of Trump’s supporters favor amending the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, further making it difficult for children born to undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Public Policy Polling, said: “Donald Trump’s saying things out on the campaign trail that a lot of people think, but that have generally been seen as not appropriate to talk about in public. So it’s not surprising that people who hold those kinds of beliefs gravitating toward him.”

Those results should not be a surprise to anyone who has closely followed Trump in the last seven years and particularly remember how in 2011 he added fuel to the birther movement campaign and dominated cable news by questioning Obama’s legitimacy as president.

During a 2011 interview on the conservative radio’s “Laura Ingraham Show,” Trump said: “Look, he cannot give a birth certificate. You can, I can, I got one yesterday, it took me a day, 24 hours, I got one. A lot of the so-called birthers, these are great people, these are really great American people. These are hard-working, unbelievable, salt of the earth people.”

The absurdity of asking the nation’s first black president to show his papers to prove his authenticity as an American became the first time in recent history that a sitting president was subjected to this kind of humiliation. While some Hillary Clinton supporters not associated with her campaign pushed the birther idea in 2008 as she was losing to Obama, the former secretary of state has emphatically denied any involvement in the then-smear campaign against Obama. Several news outlets found no evidence that her campaign was involved. The birther move also harkened back to the Jim Crow era when blacks were asked to show documents.

Trump is now reaping the benefits of his actions that tapped into a GOP following that knows he will carry their water no matter what happens.

That is why it has been difficult for candidates such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the others whose supporters are on the opposite side of Trump’s birther base to make any headway in the polls.

The more Trump becomes incendiary, insulting and culturally insensitive toward immigrants, women and calling for Muslims in this nation to be placed in a registry, the more his base is solidified.

While the pundits say Trump has no chance of winning the general election should he become the GOP nominee, his continued presence on the campaign trail will continue to damage the Republican Party’s outreach efforts to blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and other communities in trying to win the White House.

Weeks after Trump entered the race with comments about how Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the United States, GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, in an interview with the Hill newspaper, said: “We’re now trying to grow the numbers of votes in the Hispanic, African-American communities and work on growing the amount of female voters.”

Another GOP insider, David Payne, added: “He’s not hurting the other candidates. He is risking the Republican brand.”

The last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama, said he believes Trump will only hurt the party if he were the nominee.

“Now if our nominee happened to be somebody like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush who have strong Hispanic roots themselves and connections themselves, that might not be as big an issue. But if it were maybe somebody else that didn’t have those connections, why it could probably remain as a shadow above their campaign,” Romney told former Obama adviser David Axelrod in an hourlong interview for his podcast, “The Axe Files.”

And on Monday, a meeting between Trump and 100 black ministers from across the country who would in turn endorse him turned out only to be a dialogue between Trump and a few dozen ministers at his Trump Tower office in Manhattan.

After the meeting only one minister, the Rev. Darrell Scott, senior pastor of New Spirit Revival Center in Ohio and organizer of the meeting, went on the record expressing his support for Trump.

Bishop Corletta J. Vaughn of Holy Ghost Cathedral on Detroit’s east side, who declined an invitation to attend the session, offered this assessment of that gathering.

“At the onset this meeting with 100 black pastors was to initiate the conversation Trump has never had because the black church is still where black people congregate in record numbers. The black church does not need to be manipulated or misrepresented,” she said. “Trump is an insult and embarrassment, and sadly he represents the country we have become.”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.

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