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 illegal alien status.
Before Trump dumped the issue back on the public's plate, it had largely receded back into the netherworld of fringe, kooky issues. But Trump single-handedly changed that. He had the name identification, media allure, and money to make an impact. Trump also had more savvy than GOP party regulars and much of the media gave him credit for it. He quickly realized that he had to have some issue, a hook, that would get the media and GOP party tongues clucking, and type him as a force to be reckoned within the GOP. Talk of the debt, tax reform, deficit reduction, jobs and the economy would not do it. The mainstream GOP party leaders, and the would-be candidates, all with much more political experience and credibility than Trump, had already firmly staked out their turf on these issues. The only surefire issue that could get the requisite media attention and the public's ear was birtherism. It worked.
Trump pounded on the issue initially and the media took the bait. Trump then 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 quickly came back to it 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. It worked again. The media reported it as a real story and ran with it. That touched off shudders among mainstream GOP leaders who publicly scrambled to denounce Trump's talk of birtherism and fast distance themselves from him.
GOP party leaders seemingly have finally woken up to the Frankenstein monster that they created. By either ignoring the birther movement or tacitly egging it on, it 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 GOP, the monster that Trump unleashed again is back on the prowl. A legion of websites, bloggers, and the conservative site WorldNetDaily, and the pack of right-wing talk show hosts, including Fox's Sean Hannity, relentlessly pound on the issue. They are read, watched and listened to, and sadly believed, by millions of Americans.
Polls have consistently shown that the belief that Obama is not an American citizen, or at best, that some have doubts about his citizenship, has huge traction among a near majority of Republicans. It also has resonance among the general public where some polls show that a significant number of voters openly wonder about the president's true place of birth. Trump was well aware of the numbers that doubt the president's American citizenship. And he is even more aware that the inflammatory issue is driven by part naked racism, and in part by the GOP's loathing of Obama's economic policies, and moderate political views.
In the days since Trump began riding the birther issue hard, he's gotten GOP leaders to acknowledge that he's a party thorn by either denouncing him as former President George W. Bush chief strategist Karl Rove did, or praise him as Sarah Palin did, or field reports from South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and others that Trump is calling to say he's serious about launching a presidential bid. Trump even got Obama to stoop down and publicly comment on the issue and 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 even more evidence that Trump and the birther issue are again a "legitimate" talking point issue and concern for millions.
That's bad news for GOP mainstream leaders, who now say they want the issue, and Trump to go away. That's not going to happen anytime soon. Trump and the birther issue are just too juicy and irresistible issue for much of the media to ignore, and worse still, for millions of Americans. The GOP can thank itself and Trump for that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. 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.