New America Media, News Analysis,
LOS ANGELES - Forgotten in the furor over Orange County GOP Central Committee Member Marilyn Davenport’s vile, vicious, and blatantly racist depiction of President Obama and his family as chimps is the reason that she did it. The caption underneath the photo read, “Now you know why no birth certificate.” The timing for the “satire,” as Davenport lamely explained in her bogus defense, was no accident. It came within days after real estate mogul (and would-be GOP presidential candidate) Donald Trump continued to harp on President Obama’s alleged status as an "illegal alien."
Over the last year or so, the birther issue had largely receded into the netherworld of fringe, kooky ideas. But Trump—who has the name identification, media allure, and money to make an impact—single-handedly pushed the issue front and center once more. Trump is shrewder than GOP party regulars and much of the media realize. He quickly understood that, to gain attention as a potential 2012 candidate, he had to have some issue, a hook, that would get the media and GOP party tongues clucking and establish him as a force to be reckoned within the Republican Party. Talk of the debt, tax reform, deficit reduction, jobs and the economy would not do it. Mainstream GOP leaders and would-be candidates, all with much more political experience and credibility than Trump, had already staked out that turf. The only surefire issue that could get the requisite media attention and the public’s ear was birtherism. The strategy worked.
Trump pounded on the issue and the media took the bait. Then the mogul slyly backed off for a moment and talked about the familiar, substantive issues of trade, China, and the economy. But birtherism was never far from his agenda. He returned to the topic at a recent Tea Party pep rally in Boca Raton, Florida; and in an interview the day after the filing deadline for federal taxes, he thundered that he’d publicly disclose his tax information if Obama would produce his “real” birth certificate. The gambit worked again. The media reported his remarks as a real story and ran with it. That touched off shudders among mainstream GOP leaders, who publicly scrambled to denounce Trump comments and distance themselves from him.
GOP leaders seem to have finally woken up to the Frankenstein monster that they created by either ignoring the birther movement or tacitly egging it on. The issue could turn the GOP presidential nomination derby into a freak circus. This would wreck any chance that a GOP presidential candidate has to snatch back the White House. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the monster that Trump unleashed again is back on the prowl. A legion of bloggers, websites (including the conservative WorldNetDaily), and rightwing talk show hosts, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, are once again relentlessly pounding the issue. These conservatives are read, watched and listened to, and—sadly—believed by millions of Americans.
Polls have consistently shown that a near majority of Republicans either believe Obama is not an American citizen or have doubts about his citizenship. Birtherism also has resonance among the general public, with some polls showing that a significant number of voters openly wonder about the president’s true place of birth. Trump was well aware of the number of Americans who doubt the Obama’s citizenship. And he is even more aware that the inflammatory issue is driven in part by naked racism and in part by the GOP’s loathing of Obama’s economic policies and moderate political views. Trump also has support in Sarah Palin, who publicly declared that he "is not just throwing stones from the sidelines, he's digging in, he's paying for researchers to find out why President
Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate, so more power to him."
In the days since Trump began riding the birther issue hard, he’s forced GOP leaders to acknowledge that he’s a party thorn, either by denouncing him—as former President George W. Bush chief strategist Karl Rove did—or by praising him, as Palin did. Trump even got Obama to stoop down and publicly comment on the issue of his birth, something that he had scrupulously avoided.
A recent straw poll showed that Trump’s birther crusade has paid off. He now tops the most favored list of potential GOP presidential candidates. The straw poll is, of course, just a popularity poll at this stage of the political game. But it does provide evidence that the birther issue is again a “legitimate” talking point issue and concern for millions.
That’s bad news for GOP mainstream leaders, who now say they want the debate over Obama’s birth, and Trump, to go away. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. Trump and the birther issue are just too juicy and irresistible for much of the media — and worse still, for millions of Americans—to ignore. The GOP has only itself to blame.