In July, a Research2000 poll found that 11% of respondents answered the question, "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?" with "no." As always in these polls lately, it was Republicans who were throwing the curve toward "crazy." 4% of Democrats thought the president was an alien, with 3% saying they weren't sure. 8% of Independents said that Obama wasn't really American and 9% weren't sure.
For Republican voters, it was 28% non-citizen and 30% unsure. 58% of Republican respondents were either birthers or wondered whether birther charges had merit.
In the mainstream media, the birther movement has lost a lot of steam. After a series of frivolous lawsuits turned into a series of humiliating losses, it quickly became clear that this whole birther thing wasn't going to go anywhere. Where there's smoke, there may be fire. But the media realized that there wasn't even smoke. In the average American's mind, the whole thing had blown over.
But, as the poll above shows, Republican voters are most definitely not average Americans. With more than a quarter of GOP voters being genuine birthers and nearly a third still needing to be convinced one way or another, a solid majority -- 58% -- of Republicans are either birthers or birther-friendly. The average Republican voter is an unaverage American, far outside the mainstream. Given the amount of information out there, even being agnostic about the question is an irrational position. If you wonder whether President Obama's an illegal alien, then you're just as much of a crank as someone who's convinced of it. It's like wondering about the existence of Santa Claus; not knowing means you're a nut. If you're not convinced by now, nothing will ever convince you.
Which segues nicely into the nutty '08 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Whether Sarah's an actual birther, a birther agnostic, or an opportunist trying to take advantage of the widespread conspiracy theorism of the GOP base, she tried to use the issue to her advantage recently by questioning the legitimacy of the president's citizenship and, with it, his win last November.
Sarah Palin declared on Thursday that the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate is "rightfully" an issue with the American public, and that it is "fair game" for politicians to question Obama's citizenship.
The comments came during an interview with conservative radio host Rusty Humphries, who asked Palin whether she planned to "make the birth certificate an issue" if she runs for president in 2012.
"I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue," Palin said. "I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think that members of the electorate still want answers."
But she did fault the McCain campaign for not making an issue of it.
"I think it's a fair question just like I think past associations and past voting records. All of that is fair game," she said, telling Humphries "the McCain-Palin campaign didn't do a good enough job in that area. We didn't call out Obama and some of his associates on their records and what their beliefs were, and perhaps what their future plans were, and I don't think that was fair to voters to not have done our job as candidates and a campaign to bring to light a lot of things that now we're seeing manifest in the administration."
And here's where things get fun. These comments got some play and Palin almost immediately backpedaled, turning -- as she always does -- to her fanbase on Facebook. She wasn't a birther, she'd never been a birther, and everyone who said she was was being terribly unfair.
But consider the logic here; if her Facebook posting is true, then Palin was faulting the McCain campaign for not making an issue of a "scandal" she knew didn't actually exist -- i.e., she was willing to lie to get elected. Conversely, if the interview with Humphries was true, then her later Facebook retraction-in-disguise is untrue. Palin has painted herself into a corner where simple logic dictates that she must be lying. Of course, this doesn't hurt her any with her base, since cognitive dissonance is an art form on the right. They are impervious to logic.
But what we're learning here is that the birther issue isn't going to go away. At least one Republican has begun fundraising for '10 using the issue. With a majority of Republican voters at least open to the question, it's nearly impossible for candidates to ignore.
But it's not going to fly with Independents, which presents a problem. Palin tried to have her cake and eat it too and wound up just making a fool of herself. Then again, she's not exactly a master strategist and someone else might just be able to thread that needle better.
In the end, this represents just one more problem facing Republicans in 2010 -- how to address the concerns of the wingnut majority in the GOP without scaring off everyone else. Part of the problem that the McCain/Palin campaign faced was the lynch mob aura that had settled over their later rallies and appearances; i.e., the crazies backing the campaign began to take over the campaign's messaging. McCain tried to rein it in, but it was too late. Once that particular wildfire starts, it's only going to spread. And people other than your base find it off-putting at best and terrifying at worst.
So good luck with that guys. If you're not careful, your campaign appearances are all going to turn into teabagger rallies.
I don't think that's going to work out for you.
Get updates via Twitter