WASHINGTON -- Among the more established and seasoned field of Republican operatives, there is a bit of concern that sideshow issues and partisan flamboyance could muddy a relatively generous 2012 electoral landscape. It's why Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to resuscitate skepticism over President Obama's birth certificate seems so out of place. At a time when the Texas Republican is trying to pitch his economic proposals, such as a flat tax, they believe he's trampling on his own message and hurting the party's image as well.
Sure enough, on Tuesday morning, one of the senior statesmen within the GOP, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, warned Perry and others to cut out the birther talk.
"Look, if this election is about Barack Obama's policies and the results of those policies, Barack Obama is going to lose," Barbour said after an appearance with the American Action Forum at the National Press Club. "Any other issue that gets injected to the campaign is not good for the Republicans. Republicans should want this election to be what American presidential elections have always been: a referendum on the incumbent's record. Barack Obama cannot win a second term running on his record. Zero chance. So anybody who talks about anything else is off-subject."
Barbour claimed he had not seen or heard Perry's comments. When informed that the Republican presidential candidate was echoing Donald Trump's questions about Obama's birthplace and his eligibility for the presidency, Barbour continued to plead ignorance.
"He says Trump says it is a fraud," said Barbour. "Well, I don't know what Trump said."
Still, the urgency Barbour was expressing for the GOP to fine-tune its message was clear. Others in the party, wary of fumbling a strong campaign hand, have made similar comments in the past. What's remarkable is that the issue simply doesn't die: indisputable evidence that the president was born in Hawaii has only dampened -- not killed -- the birther chatter.
"The stakes of this election are so high that I think every voter, precinct leader, county chairman, donor, whatever Republican you are talking about wants to be sure we nominate the candidate that has the best chance to beat Obama," Barbour said.