Was Romney's Birther Joke a Fatal Mistake?

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Ben Cohen
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I'm still currently on vacation, so won't be posting lengthy pieces on the Banter till next week. Given election season really is warming up, it's a shame not to be diving into this stuff full throttle, but I've been working flat out without a single break for almost a year so out of necessity had to take a bit of time off.

Anyhow, despite trying to isolate myself from anything political, I was sent a video clip of Mitt Romney making his birther joke (video above) and felt obliged to weigh in on the debacle. Said Romney on a campaign stop in Michigan:

“I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born... Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital, I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate; they know that this is the place that we were born and raised,”

The Romney camp tried to pass it off as their candidate paying homage to his birth place, but anyone with half a brain could see that it was a dig at Obama and an attempt to rile up the conservative base that still does not accept Obama as a legitimate President or American citizen.

It probably had the desired effect, just as Romney's subtly racist language has in the past. But from a strategic point of view, it was a very, very bad move.

Writes Greg Sargent:

Maybe this will get chalked up to Romney’s awkwardness and get dismissed, but it looks to me like a major mistake. Coming just after days spent debating Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remark, this is again a reminder of the extreme voices in the GOP, which Romney has at times been slow to denounce. And it seems less than presidential, to put it mildly. The fact that uncomfortably large numbers still believe Obama has perpetrated an elaborate plot to fake his birthplace and ascend to the presidency illegitimately is a pretty damn big deal.

It will be easy for the Obama campaign to seize on this to raise questions about Romney’s judgment, temperament, and character. Wow.

Romney has a huge problem on his hands this election, and that is how to simultaneously appeal to the GOP base that doesn't trust him, or to the center that doesn't like him. It seems that Romney has opted, at least for now, to go for the base - hence the Paul Ryan VP pick and the 'joke' about Obama's birth certificate. The problem is that the base is now so far out to the Right that by the simple virtue of engaging with them, Romney isolates himself further from the center. No reasonable, educated person in America would have found Romney's joke funny, or bought that he didn't mean it. They would have found it offensive, snide, and unnecessary. Compared to Obama's consistent tone of rationality and civility, Romney is coming across as a mean spirited frat boy who believes he is entitled to the Presidency because he is rich and white.

As Sargent notes, this behavior is distinctly un-Presidential and it will cost Romney in terms of credibility. Obama has an ability to rise above the fray and not get embroiled in bitchy back and forths with his adversaries. In the short term, this doesn't always bode well for the President, but in the long term, he wins. Romney may have won a few cheap laughs in Michigan with his insinuation that Obama isn't really an American, but he will lose when it comes to the opinions of the majority of Americans who still value honorable conduct in their leaders.

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