Mainstream Republican party leaders can gnash their teeth, pull their hair and scream to the heavens because real estate mogul and self-styled would be presidential candidate like Donald Trump is singlehandedly turning the GOP 2012 presidential primary race into a laughingstock. But they have no one to blame but themselves.
Former George W. Bush chief strategist Karl Rove is a case in point. He lately has screamed the loudest about Trump’s mockery of the party with his birther obsession. He called him a “joke candidate” and off there in the nutty right.” But Rove sat for months as did the other GOP major party leaders and were either silent, amused, or gave a tacit wink and nod to the birthers.
There was no outcry that enough is enough with the birther antics. There was no stern warning that the birthers posed a potentially lethal threat to the party’s chances to unseat President Obama in 2012 by turning off the independents; the one group that they lost in 2008 and desperately need to get back in 2012 to have any chance of winning the White House.
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On the rare occasions that former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele addressed the birther controversy, his statements were weak, tepid and terse. It was a textbook case of giving with one hand and taking back with another. His eagerness to cheer every zany utterance and act of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, the driving force behind the birther movement, gave backdoor credence to the bogus issue. The deafening silence or tacit endorsement from the GOP leaders got the results that they now claim horrify them. Polls have shown that a significant number of Republicans think Obama is an illegal alien. Those are big numbers, and clearly type the birther movement as anything but a crackpot fad.
But the GOP still hasn’t totally learned the lesson that continuing to overplay birtherism by blaming it on Trump could backfire. More than a dozen GOP controlled state legislatures have either introduced varying versions of a birther bill. Or as in the case of the Arizona legislature passed a bill. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer quickly vetoed it and got some praise for doing it.
What is often forgotten was that Brewer as the other GOP national leaders was publicly mum on the birther movement nationally, and did not aggressively speak out against the birther bill as it wormed its way through the Arizona legislature. She certainly had plenty of chances for to do that. Her counterpart in Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal, whose name has periodically been bandied about as a possible GOP presidential contender, went one better than Brewer. He indicated that if the Louisiana legislature passes their birther type bill, he’d sign it.
Trump meanwhile has been completely tone deaf to the calls from GOP top party leaders to knock it off and stick with the more pressing issues of jobs, the economy, the debt and deficit reduction. In a Tea Party pep rally in Boca Raton, Florida he again hectored Obama on his birth certificate. And in an interview the day after the filing date for taxes, he challenged that he’d publicly produce his tax returns if Obama produced his supposed “real” birth certificate. Palin, not to be outdone, quickly rushed to Trump’s defense and blasted the media for picking on him for raising the issue, and belittling his campaign.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who have taken the first steps toward a presidential bid formal by setting up exploratory committees, have both decried the birther issue. But they had no choice. Not to speak out would have left them wide open to giving tacit endorsement to the fraudulent issue. Both belatedly realized the threat that continuing to harp on this issue would pose to their and other GOP presidential contender’s chances.
Unfortunately, the GOP’s long standing see no evil, hear no evil stance on the birther movement has already taken its toll. A recent national GOP presidential poll showed Trump cleaned the potential Republican presidential field’s clocks. He had a ten point lead over former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as the top GOP 2012 contender.
It’s a poll, and it’s more about popularity and name identification at this point than any serious indication of who GOP party leaders, donors, and the rank and file will back for the nomination and in the general election next year. It likely won’t be Trump. But the fact that Trump scored so high with a non-existent political resume, and mostly on the strength of beating up on Obama on his birth certificate is an ominous sign that the GOP is just as fractured, confused, and riddled with open and closet bigotry as ever.
This was amply reflected in another recent poll that showed that a majority of GOP voters are either not thrilled, or appalled at the poor quality of the candidates that have touted themselves as presidential timber so far. So, the hand wringing about Trump birtherism, and racial bigotry, that the GOP party leaders say they renounce is just talk. It’s a simple case of maybe too little, too late.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on blogtalkradio.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson