When I mentioned Rick Perry’s foray into Birtherism yesterday, a number of his supporters commented, e-mail, and tweeted that I was being unfair to the Republican candidate, and that he wasn’t endorsing or engaging in Birtherism at all in his Parade interview. Today’s interview with CNBC’s John Harwood will be a little harder to explain away:
Q: Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?
A: It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, Donald [Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.
Barack Obama’s college grades are certainly fair game, especially after the media went after Perry’s less-than-stellar academic record at Texas A&M. Obama has refused to release his college transcripts, and the media has exhibited a lot less curiosity about Obama’s scholastic record than about those of his rivals in either election cycle. In fact, they were a lot less interested in vetting Obama on anything in 2008 than they were with John McCain and especially with Sarah Palin. Media outlets sent dozens of reporters to Wasilla and Juneau, while mainly ignoring Chicago reporters who tried to explain that Obama was a Daley Machine dilettante.
However, we don’t need to see Obama’s college transcripts any longer, mainly because we have almost three years of Obama’s record as a presidential failure for Republicans to highlight in 2012. The same is true for birth certificates, especially after the state of Hawaii repeatedly confirmed his birth in Honolulu and the release of the certified birth record in May of this year. Harping on Obama’s college grades and the lack of transparency won’t hurt the GOP and might be “fun” in tweaking Obama’s vanity, but spending any time aligning the GOP with the die-hard conspiracy theorists does distract from the better and more substantive arguments we can use to convince voters to send Obama packing. It also undermines the credibility of the candidates who indulge in this nonsense, and reflects poorly on the GOP.
And since Perry himself recognizes that it’s a “great distraction,” the better question is why he thinks it’s “fun” to continue distracting people from Obama’s awful record in the White House with this conspiratorial nonsense. Every moment not focused on Obama’s failures is a moment lost for Republican candidates in the general election, and an opportunity for the media to spin the GOP as the party of crazies next summer and fall.
Update: The actual transcript has a line left out of the NYT’s report — but it doesn’t make it any better:
JOHN HARWOOD: Mitt Romney after the President released his birth certificate earlier this year said that issue’s done and settled, I accept it. You chose to keep it alive in your interview with Parade magazine over the weekend. Why’d you do that?
RICK PERRY: I– it’s a good issue to keep alive. Just– you know, Donald’s got to have some fun. So– and the issue is this.
JOHN HARWOOD: But it sounds like you really do have some doubt about it.
RICK PERRY: Well, look, I haven’t– I haven’t seen his– I haven’t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper. So, let’s– you know, if we’re going to show stuff, let’s show stuff. So. But, look, that’s all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I’m– I’m really not worried about the President’s birth certificate. It’s fun to– to poke and add him a little bit and say hey, how about– let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.
JOHN HARWOOD: Well so–
RICK PERRY: But here’s what’s really serious. Is we got people sitting around watching this interview while the president has killed 2 and a half million jobs. That’s serious. And that’s what we got to better get right.
JOHN HARWOOD: But are you saying that your comments about that are kind of a joke? Or do you seriously have unresolved questions like Donald Trump has about them?
RICK PERRY: I don’t have a clue about where the President– and what this– birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it. If those of you in the media want to talk about it that’s fine, but I hope what you’ll really get focused on is how are we going to get this country back on track. Because if we don’t, America’s next generation is not going to have as good a future as what we had, and that’s what I’m concerned about. I know how to do that. And you do it by giving a flat tax. You get these regulations pulled off of businesses, and you allow entrepreneurs the confidence that they can go risk their capital.
If he’s not worried about it, why bring it up at all? What makes it “fun”? And again, if it’s such a distraction, then maybe Perry should stop having “fun” and get serious about campaigning on the issues.
Update: A few commenters want to give Perry a pass, saying that he didn’t bring it up until asked about it by Parade. But Parade asked about it after Perry made a very public gesture of consulting with Donald Trump, whose brief campaign focused almost exclusively on Birtherism, and who still insists on pursuing it. Parade’s question was hardly out of bounds — Perry even connected it to Trump himself — and responded by flirting with the notion. In Harwood’s interview, he follows up with a question about it, and instead of claiming that he was misquoted or taken out of context (or that the Parade question was an unfair ambush), Perry declares it “fun” to press Obama on the birth certificate.
Perry’s responsible for his own choices, and if you want a template for how to handle the issue, look no further than Michele Bachmann’s response in April, when Trump was busy exploiting it for a cheap polling boost, before Obama released the certified birth record.
Update II: Jennifer Rubin gets Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and Iowa governor Terry Branstad on the record to rebuke Perry:
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a frequent mention for the VP list and the governor of a critical swing state, told Right Turn exclusively through his spokesman: “The governor has always been clear on this matter: The president was born in the United States and any suggestion that he wasn’t is an unnecessary distraction from the important issues facing our nation.”
McDonnell is a careful politician who has pledged not to endorse before the end of the Virginia legislative session. But the message is unmistakable: Knock it off. You’re hurting the party.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who also has yet to endorse and hosts the first contest in the nomination process, seems to share that view. His spokesman told Right Turn: “The governor believes this is an issue that was put to rest long ago. I do not believe the average Iowa caucus-goer shares these views.” In other words: This is not the way to dig out of single digits in a state in which you need to do very well.
Sam Stein at HuffPo gets Haley Barbour on record, telling the GOP presidential field to stop fooling around with Birtherism:
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.”