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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Why Trump and the Birthers Won't Go Away

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President Obama was indeed prophetic when he said at a press conference a year ago that his release of his long form birth certificate would not convince countless numbers of anti-Obama skeptics that he was a bona fide American. Nearly a year after the president called it right on the bogus issue, the Public Policy Polling survey of GOP voters in Georgia, Tennessee and, more troubling, Ohio, because it's the key battleground state, found that more than one third of GOP voters still didn't believe he was born in the U.S. The same high degree of doubt about Obama's birth likely would be found among GOP voters in other states. Billionaire professional Obama basher Donald Trump almost certainly knew that, and that he spoke for untold millions when he calculatingly lashed out at Obama again with the phony birther charge.

Before Trump shoved the issue back into public debate, the hope was that despite the president's warning and fear, and the negative poll findings, that birtherism had become a nonissue. This seemed even more the case when GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the top GOP presidential contenders during the GOP primary campaign, all publicly rejected the birther claim about Obama.

But their public rejection of it as Trump has amply shown won't put the issue to rest simply because birtherism is a serviceable political chip for the GOP. In the months immediately before and after the president released his long form certificate, bills were introduced in 14 states that required presidential candidates to show iron clad proof of their U.S. birth. None of the bills passed. However, the mere fact of introducing the birth certificate requirement legislation in these states was just enough to continue to fan the flames of anti-Obama sentiment. There's even more to this apparent crackpot stuff.

The scurrilous ultraconservative attack line against Obama from the moment that he announced his presidential candidacy in 2007 is that he's unpatriotic, a closet socialist and Islamic radical. This fit in with a tact that the GOP has honed over four decades and that's to assault Democratic presidential candidates and presidents, and that's character attack, character attack, and character attack some more. This ploy sows public seeds of doubt about Democrats even deeper, deflects attention from the real issues of the economy, health care, education and foreign policy concerns. In the case of Obama the birther issue has an added pay-off; it reinforces the latent and overt bigotry among many GOP voters, and more than a few Democrats. That was sadly apparent in polls that show some Democrats still won't back Obama solely because of race. White Democrats in a recent Democratic primary in West Virginia went much further than anti-Obama racial talk and gave a white Texas felon running against Obama a significant number of their votes.

Add to that the legion of websites, bloggers, the conservative site WorldNetDaily, and the pack of right-wing talk show hosts, including Fox's Sean Hannity, that relentlessly pound on the issue. They are read, watched and listened to, and believed, by millions of Americans. The birther issue is and always will be alive and well with them. It's driven in part by naked racism, and in part by the GOP's loathing of Obama's economic policies, and moderate political views.
The emergence of massively funded Super PACs may give yet another potential potent push to the birther issue as a weapon against Obama. A few GOP connected Super PAC bankrollers have floated straw man issues such as Obama's long severed tie with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright and the non-revelation that Obama once smoked pot to test whether these slurs would touch a public nerve. They didn't. But it's still early in the stretch drive of the 2012 presidential campaign. There's little doubt that the search is on with a vengeance to scrounge up any piece of political muck that can be funded and pounded into a video hit against the president. The birther issue almost certainly will fit into the dirty attack campaign somewhere.

Obama hit Romney hard for his schmooze with Trump at the very moment that Trump blathered out again the zany birther line. The aim was to link Romney by association with birtherism despite Romney's public disavowal of it. The president was right to go on the attack against him on this. But no matter, birtherism is just too juicy and too battle tested an issue not to revive in some way especially given the fact as Obama sadly noted when he released his certificate that so many want to believe the worst about him. Trump certainly knew that. That's why neither he nor the birthers will go away.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.

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