Front-running GOP presidential contender Donald Trump doesn’t utter the words “show me your birth certificate” in the same breath with President Obama anymore. But then, he doesn’t have to. He mined that fraudulent issue of birtherism deeply enough a few years back to get his mug, name and point about Obama supposedly being un-American in front of millions of Republican voters. This launched the Trump traveling media and public titillation show that currently masquerades as serious politics.
But none of Trump’s brash, loudmouth, neo-nothing, borderline racist jibes would have worked if it weren’t for Obama. The proof of this reared its ugly head again with the recent poll by Public Policy Polling.
It found that a plurality of GOP voters still say Obama is not an American citizen. And since in their eyes he’s not an American citizen, it follows he must be a Muslim. In this case, the number of Republicans who say that is not a plurality, but a solid majority.
Trump didn’t feed that notion. GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker did when he publicly mused that he wasn’t sure whether or not Obama was a Christian. None of the others in the pack of GOP contenders said anything of the sort, at least publicly. But not one of them publicly rebuked Walker for saying it. The birther movement and the companion “Obama is a Muslim” belief never could or would die among the wide body of GOP voters as long as Obama occupied the White House. From the start, there was a canny, calculated and politically cynical motive behind birtherism, the religion question and Obama’s supposed foreign loyalties.
It started the instant that Obama declared his candidacy in February 2007. Take your pick: He was too black. He was not patriotic enough. He was too liberal, effete, untested. He was a Muslim, terrorist fellow traveler, and a closet black radical. The shock of Obama in the White House was simply too much for many to bear. Obama defied the stereotypical textbook look and definition of what an American president was supposed to look and be like; namely a wooden, middle-aged or older white male. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The real value of the phony controversies was that it was a convenient and serviceable way to ridicule, undermine and ultimately derail Obama’s policy initiatives on health care, the economy and foreign policy.
Fast-forward to the 2016 presidential race. Stalking horse Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have no defined program on education, health care, the economy and foreign policy. Yet, they ride high at the top of the GOP polls. They’re at the top by tossing out pithy, bombastic sounding quips on any and everything that comes to mind with full knowledge they will grab headlines and draw even more rapturous applause from Obama loathers. But even better, their digs inflame and stir millions of angry, frustrated and alienated GOP voters. The hope is that if they stay upset enough that their anger will translate into a surge at the polls in November 2016.
The rap against both US Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 was that both were much too traditional and even moderate. They did nothing to inspire and mobilize ultra-conservatives, Christian evangelists and Tea Party acolytes who make up a large and influential number of the GOP’s foot soldiers. When many of them stayed home on Election Day, the GOP lost any real shot they had at beating Obama. This time it may be different.
Trump quickly signed the pledge not to bolt the GOP if he does not get the party’s nomination. Carson has never given any hint that he’s anything other than a loyal Republican. The Faustian deal is that the GOP regulars will publicly deplore Trump’s immigrant bashes and insults to women. But privately they will wink and nod at them knowing that he and Carson stir anger, xenophobia, bigotry and even hate among legions of GOP voters. The 2016 Republican presidential nominee must win the hearts and minds of these voters. That means they must march to the polls in droves in the key battleground states on Election Day.
The man they bank on to make that happen is Obama. He’s the red flag that Trump and Carson will wave high at every turn in the crudest, nastiest and most vilifying way. As Trump’s and now Carson’s surge in the polls show, it’s paying dividends.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst who is a frequent MSNBC contributor. Hutchinson is also an associate editor of New America Media and a weekly co-host of the “Al Sharpton Show” on the American Urban Radio Network. He is also the host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KTYM 1460-AM Los Angeles and KPFK-90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.