Trump Birtherism and 2012

Now that Obama has released his long form birth certificate, will this silence the conspiracy theorists? Of course not. But it may turn the disturbing trend we’ve seen in recent polling data showing up to 47% of GOPers think Obama was not born in his country.

The usual caveats to those polls apply. Most people are not political junkies and so haven’t followed the birther issue closely. Most Republicans don’t like Obama and so thinking he was born elsewhere is a good way of filing him into that “other” category. And many Democrats embraced the “Bush allowed 9/11″ theory.

But still, 47% is crazy. How did we get to that point?

We got there because the mainstream GOP was playing footsie with the radical rump of the party. Everyone in the GOP power circles knew Obama was born in the US. But they were more than happy to let the issue fester — and occasionally poke it — because they knew it excited a small but motivated group of voters. They knew that stomping on the birther thing could split off some radicals. But most of all, it was a way to deligitimize Obama in the eyes of the voters. By not embracing but not rejecting birtherism — uttering such non-denials as “I take him at his word” — they kept the issue up, maintaining their ability to portray Obama as someone alien to America.

And then it suddenly blew up in their faces. A shameless attention-whore reality-TV star came along and grabbed the issue with both hands. (Actually, now that I’m a fan of Maggie McNeil’s blog, I think it’s an insult to whores to compare Donald Trump to them.) Donald Trump didn’t embrace the birth certificate issue because he believed in it. He embraced it because it brought instant media attention. And suddenly the cancer of birtherism exploded all over the GOP. The environment became so toxic that no one who had political ambitions wanted to get in the pool.

Don’t think so? Why are so many candidates reluctant to throw their hats into the 2012 ring? Even Palin is stalling and taking her time. Why is the presidential field so lackluster so far? Because none of the politicians wanted this on them. None of them wanted to run in a field where birtherism would be an issue and they’d end up at the head of a truly ugly campaign.

The release of the birth certificate may turn the tide on this. Trump, of course, is claiming credit for the release of the BC and the vilest of the birthers are shouting, “why did it take so long” instead of “Boy, is our face red!” Trump is also moving on to more aggressively racist rhetoric such as telling Obama to stop playing basketball and implying he got into the Ivy League on affirmative action (because we all know how many AA guys become editors of the Law Review and graduate magna cum laude).

But, personally, I don’t the GOP is going to get out of this that easily. They’ve been outfoxed, again, by the supposed amateur in the White House. They let the birther issue fester until Trump detonated it. And now that the birthers have been shown to be fools, the stink is going to cling to them for a long time.

(Don’t think that I’m letting Obama off here. My understanding is that he could have done this at any time over the last two years. To drag it out this long hurt the country even though it hurt his opponents more. And, I’m sorry, when you apply for the job as President, you don’t get to hold back records like this.)

Update: Thinking about this some more, the release of the BC is actually a huge political coup for Obama. The timing makes it seem (and it certainly being claimed) that Trump is the one who got this done. This cements Trump’s hold on the birther contingent and may even vault him — until the time comes to release his financial records — into front-runner status. And if THAT is the case, Obama just won the 2012 election. Because his opponent will either be Trump or a Republican maimed by Trump’s stupidity.

Update: Several legal experts are pointing out that Obama could not release the certificate under Hawaiian law. While this is true, he clearly got an exemption now, according to the letter from his lawyer. That should not have taken two years.

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